A judge has rejected the Shenandoah County School Board's attempt to impose legal fees on attorneys representing those who unsuccessfully sought to undo the board's decision to rename two schools.
Judge John E. Wetsel entered an order on March 31 denying the School Board's motion seeking sanctions against the opposing attorneys, Bradley Pollack and Robert Vaughn. The motion sought to require them to pay legal fees that had reached about $41,000 as of March 4, two days after Wetsel's order dismissed the petition challenging the schools' renaming.
The fees were incurred from board attorneys who had argued against the petition, which challenged the renaming of Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School.
“While it was costly and the School Board’s exacerbation with this action is completely justified, it would only exacerbate the Petitioners’ angst and frustration arising from the renaming of the schools to make them pay for the cost of the education they have received in this case,” Wetsel wrote in the order.
School Board attorney Lindsay Brubaker argued during a March 30 hearing held over Zoom that Pollack, who filed the motion to reverse the board's decision to rename the schools on behalf of the petitioners, never really intended to pursue the petition.
Instead, the petition was filed as a stall tactic because Pollack, who is also a member of the county’s Board of Supervisors, thought the renaming couldn’t proceed while the matter was litigated in court, Brubaker argued.
Vaughn, who was co-counsel with Pollack, argued that the sanctions were an attempt to worsen the blow from dismissal of the petition. The School Board attorneys argued that board decisions can’t be challenged, and anyone who does challenge them will be punished, Vaughn said.
“The School Board has the duty to educate the citizens of Shenandoah County, and they have performed this function very well in this case, albeit at considerable expense to the taxpayers of Shenandoah County,” Wetsel also wrote in the order.
As stated in his order dismissing the petition, Wetsel reiterated in the latest order that the petitioners’ attempt at seeking a remedy for the controversial decision was misguided.
The petitioners had failed to identify a specific student whose personal right was abridged or burden imposed that would give parents legal standing for their claims in their case, Wetsel wrote.
“This principle has been cited before in this case, but repetition is necessary to ensure the retention of knowledge,” Wetsel wrote.
Wetsel denied two motions from Vaughn during the March 30 hearing seeking to delay a decision on the motion for sanctions, and seek dismissal of the motion of sanctions while imposing sanctions against the School Board.
Vaughn sought to delay a decision on the motion for sanctions as he has filed a notice to appeal the dismissal of the petition to the Virginia Supreme Court. In filing his objection to Wetsel's dismissal of the petition, Vaughn cited what he believes to be 14 points of error and improper actions taken by the judge.
Vaughn is lead counsel in another legal matter related to the school renaming decision that is still pending in Shenandoah County Circuit Court: a petition to remove former School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel from office.
Whetzel was board chairwoman when the July 9 action to start renaming the schools was made. The petition alleged neglect of duty by her in allowing the superintendent of schools to refuse to open schools.
The reasons for seeking to remove Whetsel include: alleged misuse of office; alleged violation School Board policy for voting to change the school names; alleged failing to educate pupils in the county; and allegedly causing her constituents to be divided and aggrieved through the aforementioned reasons.
No hearings have been scheduled in the matter, but in January, attorney Jennifer D. Royer filed a motion on behalf of Whetzel seeking to quash and dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.
The motion states, in part, that the petition fails to show that it was signed by the required 10% of the total number of voters who cast votes in the last election for the seat held by Whetzel.
One person signed it multiple times, at least 20 signed it twice, another died prior to the filing of the petition and at least one may not be registered to vote in Whetzel’s district, the motion states.
The motion states timelines for proper legal proceedings haven’t been followed and also seeks a delay to allow Whetzel to gather evidence to adjudicate her jurisdictional objections.
Pollack, as a member of the county's Board of Supervisors, has discussed giving the School Board minimal funding for next years budget in opposition of the school renaming decision.