Westbrook activist George Rodrigues has chosen not to pursue a protection order against School Committee member Tim Crellin.

Rodrigues filed the order almost two weeks ago, and both parties were scheduled to appear in District Court in Portland on Friday April 14.

Rodrigues said he chose not to continue with the action against Crellin because of a desire to work for the greater interest of the Westbrook school system. Crellin said he felt Rodrigues used the entire event as a ploy for publicity.

At the School Committee’s meeting April 12, Rodrigues announced during a public comment period he no longer intended to seek a court order against Crellin. Rodrigues did not appear in court on Friday, leading to an automatic ruling in favor of Crellin, who was present in court with his attorney.

“George has cost the taxpayers of Westbrook several thousand dollars in legal fees, public officials time, police officers response and reports, e-mails,” said Crellin, who noted it cost Rodrigues $25 to file for the order. “(Also) state officials’ time and affidavits, disruption of (a) School Committee meeting, loss of revenue at a fundraiser for the poor, and the list goes on.”

Rodrigues said at last Wednesday’s school committee meeting he no longer wished seek the protection order and, instead, wanted to put aside personal differences for a healthy school environment.

“The legal action was becoming a distraction and a barrier to working with the School Committee,” said Rodrigues.

Crellin doesn’t believe Rodrigues thought he could win the case and, instead, was simply vying for publicity. He also feels personally affronted by Rodrigues’ accusations.

“If it just washes away, I come out looking like I had to defend myself,” he said, adding that Rodrigues’ and his accounts of the incidents are different. “Then he can move on to the next issue du jour.”

Rodrigues initially filed for the court order following two incidents in which Rodrigues protested at a public event and Crellin asked him to leave.

The first incident was a Feb. 25 spaghetti dinner at the parish hall of St. Hyacinth’s. The dinner was organized by State Reps. Tim Driscoll and Bob Duplessie to raise money for people who needed help heating their homes.

Rodrigues and a group of protestors entered the church with signs protesting Driscoll and Duplessie’s voting records in favor of abortion. The signs showed, among other images, aborted fetuses. Rodrigues said the two representatives shouldn’t have been allowed to hold their function at the church. Crellin asked Rodrigues to leave the event. Police were eventually called to keep Rodrigues off the church grounds.

The second incident was a March 9 public hearing held by the school department for parents to speak out about changes to the school’s sex ed curriculum. Rodrigues spoke at length against teaching about condoms at the junior high level. He then made comments deriding the beliefs of one of the school department’s teachers. At that point Assistant Superintendent Jan Breton stopped him. Crellin asked Rodrigues to leave the meeting and the police were called again.

After that meeting, Rodrigues said he talked with the school department but couldn’t get a straight answer as to why he’d been asked to leave. He thought by taking it to court and having a judge look at the case, he could “get some understanding of what a person’s rights are” at these types of meetings. He said he felt the court order was necessary to “prevent any further threats of having me physically removed” from public meetings.

Breton said she’s not sure how much Rodrigues’ actions will end up costing the city because they haven’t gotten the legal bill yet. However, she said it did require the school’s action to protect one of their officials and a number of hours worked by attorneys and by school and city officials.

Breton said she has also been responding to a request from Rodrigues under the Freedom of Information Act to provide information on staff. She said the request is time-consuming, but she realizes it’s her job to comply with the request.

“I’m paid to do that. I recognize that,” she said. “It’s when it becomes huge it’s difficult to get other work done that I’m paid to do. It’s a very busy time for us, and it’s hard to juggle every day requests.”

Crellin’s attorney, Dan Rose, said even though Rodrigues said he wasn’t going to show up on Friday for the court date, he and Crellin still had to prepare and go forward.

“Tim had to be prepared. A lot of that preparation happened before George stood up before the school board” and said he wasn’t going to the hearing, said Rose. “Did it take some time and effort to prepare? Of course it did. On behalf of the school department, we had to be prepared, had to talk to witnesses. You don’t just show up.”

Rodrigues said he thinks the whole thing could have been avoided if the school department had answered his questions. “I hate to see tax dollars wasted. I would hope that we can all work more cooperatively in the future,” he said. “The publicity needs to stay focused on the issue, which is the introduction of contraception to junior high school kids. It’s not about publicity for me but about a parent’s right to speak about (issues) in a community forum.”

Crellin disagrees. He said he feels Rodrigues is just seeking attention. “As far as I’m concerned, this whole episode was just another of George’s stupid ways of getting the attention and press time to further some ridiculous personal agenda,” he said.

George Rodrigues, right, with fellow protestor picket outside St. Hyacinth

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