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Former BHAS superintendent going to trial

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -

A judge ordered Wednesday that Dr. Leonard Seawood’s case of misusing school funds go to trial.

“We were obviously hoping for a different result, but a probable cause finding is a low bar,” said Heath Lynch, Seawood’s attorney. “And we believe that once the prosecution is forced to prove its case to a jury of Dr. Seawood’s peers beyond a reasonable doubt, there will be a different result.”

Lynch may think Judge Donna Howard’s decision made Wednesday is a low bar, but she made clear she thinks the evidence shown to her last week indicates Seawood intentionally misused school funds when he was superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools.

“Those activities and the means and the ways that those documents were presented evidences a plan and an intent to defraud that wasn’t by mistake,” said Judge Howard, in a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Those documents are request forms Seawood had filled out between 2012 and 2015 asking to be paid for vacation days he was unable to take.

Seawood is charged with taking a cash payout of roughly $45,000 for illegitimate vacation days he hadn’t earned.

His attorney claimed in a hearing on May 16 that his client was overworked and just looking to be properly compensated.

But Judge Howard said Wednesday – after spending the last week reviewing testimony from five witnesses and 22 pieces of evidence – that if that was the case, Seawood could have gone about seeking that compensation in a different way.

“Mr. Seawood could have, and possibly should have, raised the issue of the fact that, ‘I’m not able to use all of these vacation days;’ ask for an alteration of that provision, whether it be additional payoff or not, but that didn’t happen,” said Judge Howard.

The case is now set to go before a jury in August.

There will be a couple of hearings in June and July ahead of that. 

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