Novelist Sparks: Ex-school head started fires he put out

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2016, file photo, novelist Nicholas Sparks attends a special screening in Los Angeles. The trial is getting underway, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, in a lawsuit that accuses Sparks of defaming the former headmaster of a private Christian school he founded in North Carolina. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. - Novelist Nicholas Sparks says there were plenty of grounds to fire the former headmaster at the private Christian school the author founded, but Sparks says the educator was allowed to resign with a severance of more than $150,000.

Sparks testified Wednesday at the start of a federal trial in Raleigh accusing him of defaming former headmaster Saul Hillel Benjamin, who was pushed out four months after starting the job in 2013. The author of "Message in a Bottle" and "The Notebook" says Benjamin lied repeatedly about his work experience and his performance at the school in New Bern, North Carolina.

Benjamin accuses Sparks of telling Epiphany School parents, a job recruiter and others that Benjamin suffered from mental illness. He's seeking damages from the author, Sparks' foundation and the school.

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