The Florida Department of Children and Families has asked a judge to shut down a boot-camp style military academy with a record of abuse allegations.
Alan Weierman, who operates the Southeastern Military Academy in Port St. Lucie, says the state's case is a "vendetta," the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times reported. The state, which lost an earlier bid to close the school in 2009, filed another petition in January after the newspaper ran an investigative story.
Weierman, who uses the title "colonel," appeared in court Wednesday wearing military fatigues and stood at attention for the judge.
Case workers described allegations dating back to 2004 that children were physically abused. But Robert Stone, a former prosecutor representing the academy, said Weierman was never charged with abuse.
Circuit Judge Robert Belanger said he would only consider recent allegations. When a caseworker described one boy's story of being chained and called a racial slur, Stone produced a handwritten letter.
"Are you aware that young man is back to the school now?" Stone said. "Are you aware that he wrote a letter apologizing to the institution and saying he lied?"
The lawyer, with his client nodding in agreement, accused the state of wanting to control how all children are raised.
Belanger appeared sympathetic to Weierman, talking about a time when a teacher who caught him cutting class broke a yardstick over his head.
"Sometimes abuse is in the eye of the beholder," the judge said.
The hearing was scheduled to continue Thursday. It was unclear whether Belanger would issue an immediate ruling.
Belanger suggested if he refuses to close the school he will give Weierman a deadline to get accreditation.