Attorneys who represent charter school founder Dorothy June Brown in a 2009 defamation suit she filed against parents have asked a judge to place the case on hold until her federal criminal trial is over.
The lawyers filed the motion Monday in Montgomery County Court in response to a defense attorney's request to depose Brown.
Brown's attorneys said the veteran educator might have to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if she were forced to answer questions in the suit before the criminal case had ended.
In July, a federal grand jury indicted Brown for defrauding four charter schools she founded of more than $6.5 million. The 62-count indictment alleges that Brown and four administrators engaged in wire fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and witness tampering. All pleaded not guilty.
The case is scheduled for trial Oct. 21 in U.S. District Court.
A former Philadelphia School District principal, Brown founded three Philadelphia charter schools: Laboratory, which has campuses in Northern Liberties, Overbrook, and Wynnefield; Ad Prima in Overbrook and Frankford; and Planet Abacus in Tacony.
She also helped create the Agora Cyber Charter School, which provides online in-home instruction to students from across the state.
In January 2009, Brown sued six Agora parents who had asked questions about the school's finances and its relationship with a company of Brown's that owned the school's building and that collected management fees from the school.
Her suit alleges the parents and the Agora Parent Organization defamed her and her management firm.
The complaint filed in Montgomery County said the parents had made statements "that give the clear but false impression that Dr. Brown is corrupt, incompetent, and possibly criminal."
In late October, an attorney representing Gladys Stefany, a former Agora parent from Pike County, filed documents asking the court to order Brown to appear for a deposition because she had failed to cooperate in August and September.
In a response filed Monday, Brown's attorneys said it was appropriate to place the defamation suit on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case.
"Because of the gravity of the threat hanging over her head," her lawyers said, "Dr. Brown is unable to fully and freely participate in the discovery of this matter without fear of waiving her Fifth Amendment rights."
In the request for the stay, attorneys Clifford E. Haines and Danielle M. Weiss also noted that Stefany had not tried to depose Brown until after she was indicted.
Weiss declined Tuesday to comment, other than to say: "The documents speak for themselves."
Stefany's attorney said the timing of the attempted deposition of Brown was irrelevant.
"She sued my client, and my client is entitled to ask her questions about the basis of her claim," Jeremy D. Mishkin said Tuesday. "One of these days, she is going to have to answer these questions or drop her case."
Agora continues to operate, but Brown severed all ties with it in the fall of 2009 to settle other civil suits.
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