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RALEIGH, N.C. — The trial is getting underway in a lawsuit that accuses novelist Nicholas Sparks of defaming the former headmaster of a private Christian school he founded in North Carolina.

Saul Hillel Benjamin accuses Sparks of telling Epiphany School parents, a job recruiter and others that he suffered from mental illness.

The jury in the trial beginning Wednesday in Raleigh will decide whether the private K-12 school in Spark’s hometown of New Bern, the author and the foundation Sparks created to support the school should pay damages.

Benjamin’s lawsuit alleges that the author of ‘‘Message in a Bottle’’ and ‘‘The Notebook’’ defamed him and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Benjamin was in the headmaster’s position for less than five months and says he was forced out.