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The Boston Globe

Metro

Former Westfield State president seeking $1.6m in damages

The former president of Westfield State University is seeking more than $1.6 million in damages following his resignation last November amid accusations of lavishly spending university funds.

Evan S. Dobelle, 69, asked for attorneys’ fees, punitive damages, and other compensation, with interest, in a June 4 filing in his federal lawsuit against three university trustees, the school’s attorneys, an outside audit group, and the state commissioner of higher education.

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The filing set a minimum of $1,686,442.94 in damages, representing Dobelle’s lost income based on a salary of $240,920.42 per year until his retirement at age 75.

Dobelle resigned after university trustees placed him on paid administrative leave as investigators for the school and two state agencies examined records of his spending of university money on international travel, limousines, five-star hotels, and pricey restaurants.

His resignation came with no severance or other payments from the university, though he remained eligible for a state pension of about $90,000 a year.

The questionable spending of Dobelle became public last August when the Globe first reported on expenses that included almost $150,000 used to take a Westfield State delegation to Asia and $10,000 for tickets at Tanglewood, where he took a number of potential donors.

Dobelle and his attorney, Daniel A Schwartz of Hartford, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night, but last fall Dobelle said the investigations into his expenditures were part of a smear campaign.

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Dobelle, who became president of Westfield State in 2008, has previously contended that Jack Flynn, chairman of the university’s board of trustees and a top State Police official, wanted to take control of the university to turn it into a “diploma mill” for State Police troopers.

Flynn, who is named as a defendant in Dobelle’s suit, said Tuesday that he was unable to comment on the case because of the pending litigation, but he previously called the allegations baseless.

Because Flynn and the other trustees are state employees, they are represented in the suit by Attorney General Martha Coakley, who last year sought to have the suit dismissed because state employees cannot be sued in federal court for actions taken in their official capacities.

Dobelle’s recent filing also includes a list of people likely to have discoverable information in the case, including the state education secretary, Governor Deval Patrick, and Patrick’s former chief of staff.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.

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