Wrongful death plaintiffs want AG disqualified

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on May 11, 2011 in Wrongful Death

On April 16, 2007, Charleston watched in horror as news spread of the events in Blacksburg, just across the state line, two hours away. On a university campus, a gunman had killed two students and, two hours later, opened fire on students and faculty in another building. Many were wounded; 32 died. The gunman committed suicide.

More than four years later, the parents of two of the victims have come across a barrier in their wrongful death claim against the school. They believe the state's attorney general should be disqualified as counsel for the state university.

We're talking, of course, about the Virginia Tech massacre. The families' lawsuits are against the university and its top administrators for their alleged failure to alert the campus following the first two shootings. The plaintiffs believe that their daughters would not have been killed in the classroom building if the university had acted quickly.

The U.S. Department of Education investigation found, indeed, that school administration had violated federal law when they failed to notify the rest of the school about the first shootings. The department fined the university $55,000 for that failure to warn.

Virginia's attorney general has been involved -- and vocally so -- with the appeal of the department's findings. In public statements posted on his state website, the AG has defended the university's actions (and law enforcement's), referring to the federal investigation as "shoddy" and "appalling." He called the plaintiffs' claims "baseless" and "outrageous."

These statements and others have been widely reported by the media throughout the state, especially in the county where the case will be tried.

In their motion to disqualify, plaintiffs say that the AG's actions have had a negative effect on their chance for a fair trial. His remarks, they say, will prejudice the jury pool against them. Because of his political stature, and because of the university's influence in the county, the plaintiffs believe the defendants likely have an unfair advantage.

The plaintiffs also say the attorney general has violated the state bar's ethical rules.

Reports did not include a timeline for the court's decision on the motion.

Source: The Roanoke (Virginia) Times, "Va. Tech suit plaintiffs want Cuccinelli disqualified," Tonia Moxley, 05/blog/ 2011

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