Legal maneuvering continued Wednesday afternoon in York-Poquoson Circuit Court in the civil lawsuit brought by a York County mother who alleges that negligence by school officials contributed to her son’s suicide.
The defendants’ lawyer continued his argument that sovereign immunity clears the school officials of liability for simple negligence in the case, and substitute Judge Randolph T. West ruled on access to documents that he had reviewed since the last court date on Jan. 5.
West has given every indication that the case will end up before a jury, and continued to do so Wednesday. No trial date has been set, but West indicated the court will have a permanent judge in place by the time it gets underway.
Alise Williams is suing four current and former York County School Division officials for $10 million for wrongful death. Her son, Christian Taylor, a 16-year-old freshman at Grafton High School, took his life May 31, 2010, and Williams has accused school officials of failing to protect him from bullying at school.
Named in the lawsuit are 2009-10 Grafton High staffers: Principal Paul Hopkins, assistant principals Craig Reed and Karen Fahringer, and counselor Joseph Erfe.
The four defendants were present at the Jan. 5 hearing, but were not called to testify. Their lawyer, David Corrigan, said he was called in advance of Wednesday’s hearing and told they weren’t needed.
“This case is high-profile and you’d have a hard time finding jurors who haven’t read or heard anything about it,” West said. “The more we open up here, the more difficult it will be to find them. After reading the brief, I didn’t think I’d need witnesses to make a decision this afternoon.”
West said the case will go forward with the pleadings as they are, though the lawyers briefly debated sovereign immunity.
West ruled on the availability of documents that were subpoenaed from the York County School Board and York-Poquoson Social Services. He said some of them will be made available to lawyers from both sides, but can only be viewed at the courthouse for note-taking purposes with no photocopies being made.
He further restricted access by warning the lawyers that no one else should see their notes, and denied a request by Williams’ lawyers that an expert witness be allowed to see the documents.
“These are juveniles and I’m trying to protect their names,” West said.