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No settlement in bullying lawsuit

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Judge sets new trial date in case involving school bullying issue

By Donna Carman

Repeating what he said two weeks ago, Casey Circuit Judge James G. Weddle said on Monday that he would not sign any settlement agreement in a civil case involving former students and local educators that contained a confidentiality clause.

“I have not, and will not, sign an order that seals the terms of the settlement,” Weddle told attorneys for both sides.

Instead, Weddle gave the attorneys 10 days to file any additional documents in the case, and set a trial date for March 9, 2009.

The case was filed in July 2006 by former Casey County High School students Lacy Griffith, Nikki Rayborn, Charissa Gosser, Bethany Buis and Rachel Weddle. The girls are represented by attorneys Ted Lavit of Lebanon, Ned Pillersdorf of Prestonsburg, and Brenda Popplewell of Somerset.

The girls allege they were bullied over a period of years while attending Casey High and/or Casey Middle School, and that school officials did little or nothing to protect them.

Named as defendants in the suit are Linda Hatter, superintendent; Tim Goodlett and Jerry Pierce, CCHS principal and assistant principal; Eddie Clark and Sherry Brady, guidance counselors; Perry Walters, Brent Ware, Garlen Whitis and Andy Stephens, teachers; Terry Price and Kevin Stephens, CCMS principal and assistant principal; Rex Rader, school safety officer; and Carmela Clark, a teacher at Casey County Kentucky Tech.

The first 11 defendants named are represented by William Hoback of the Louisville firm Middleton Reutlinger. Rader’s attorney is Andrea P. Anderson of Bowling Green, while Clark is represented by Katherine M. Coleman of Lexington.

Attorneys for both sides met in late May for mediation to try to reach a settlement in the case, which was agreed upon in early June.

However, by late July, the case had still not been settled, and Lavit filed a motion seeking enforcement of the settlement agreement.

Hoback countered at the Sept. 8 court appearance that the agreement had been altered. He pointed out that the agreement presented by the plaintiffs omitted a clause regarding non-disparagement, meaning the plaintiffs would be prohibited from talking about the case and making cutting or defamatory remarks toward the defendants.

Both sides agreed on a confidentiality clause that prohibited the release of the terms of the settlement.

At that court appearance, Judge Weddle said he would not sign the motion enforcing the settlement as the public has a right to know the terms.

On Monday, Weddle held that position.

“I am not approving any settlement with confidentiality,” Weddle said.

The judge also said the attorneys for the plaintiffs were saying one thing, while the defense attorneys were saying another.

“I don’t think you ever had an agreement,” he said.

The attorneys presented arguments for a few minutes, but were halted by Weddle.

“I’ve heard all this before and I’m not going through it again,” he said. “I’ll be glad to hear your motion for summary judgment.”

Meanwhile, Weddle said he would set another trial date for the first of the five trials involving claims made by Griffith. That trial was to have gotten under way on July 7, but was cancelled when the settlement agreement was reached. It has now been rescheduled for next March.

Moving forward

Following Monday’s court appearance, Lavit expressed disappointment that Weddle did not sign the motion to enforce the settlement agreement.

He pointed out his clients did not seek either a confidentiality or a non-disparagement agreement when the case was mediated.

“(The defendants) get their cake and eat it too,” he said.

He’s still hopeful the case can be settled before next spring’s trial date.

“The girls just want to feel they made some advancement toward the support of their cause,” Lavit said. “And they feel the settlement did that.”

Hoback said he had filed a motion for summary judgment prior to the mediation on the settlement. Since Weddle has indicated that he will not sign the settlement agreement, Hoback said they will now await the judge’s ruling on the summary judgment.

Hoback noted he would also be filing a response to a case that Pillersdorf cited when the parties were in court on Monday.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the case through to its conclusion,” Hoback said. “We’ll just gear up for trial again.”