Thursday, November 01, 2012

Hidden Valley student's lawsuit against administrators to be revised

The original complaint in the case against administrators is not accurate, a judge says.

A judge Wednesday agreed to consider a request to dismiss a $3.5 million civil lawsuit against three Hidden Valley High School administrators.

Circuit Court Judge Charles Dorsey will rule on the request after the plaintiff's lawyer has a chance to make revisions to the lawsuit. No date was set for the next hearing.

James Hugus, 19, is suing the Roanoke County school's principal, assistant principal and school counselor for gross negligence regarding actions taken at the school Nov. 5, 2010, when Hugus, then 17, reported he was sodomized off campus at a party the night before.

Ray Page, who pleaded no contest to the charge of forcible sodomy, is in jail serving five years, with an additional 10 years suspended.

The morning after the incident, school administrators detected alcohol on Hugus' breath and the teenager subsequently was charged with underage possession of alcohol by police, according to a complaint filed in June in Roanoke County Circuit Court. The lawsuit claims negligence on the part of school officials for failing to provide medical aid, investigate the claim or notify the county's department of social services.

"This never would've happened to a girl," Hugus' mother, Deborah Lockhart, said after today's hearing, as Hugus stood a few feet away.

Kenneth Ries, who represents Principal Rhonda Stegall, Assistant Principal Josh Whitlow and school counselor Monique Bates, argued for dismissal based on a Virginia code section that provides immunity to public school personnel who investigate alcohol use and other serious infractions.

Dorsey, however, noted that Hugus' complaint seemed not to be about the alcohol investigation but about the alleged lack of investigation relating to the sexual assault. He advised Hugus' attorney, Charles Covati, to revise the complaint. Dorsey advised Covati to take out language referring to a code section about the requirements of reporting certain injuries to children because there was not a proximate cause.

"We will likely challenge the new complaint as well," Ries said.

Both sides agreed to remove the Roanoke County School Board from the list of defendants before Wednesday's hearing, citing sovereign immunity. The remaining defendants include the three school administrators and Page.

According to Hugus' lawsuit, he attended a party at Page's residence at Sunscape Apartments, where Page served him an alcoholic drink that caused him to lose "control of his motor functions and resulted in a conscious but virtually paralyzed state." Hugus awoke the next morning and left Page's apartment, picked up his belongings at home and went to school, where he reported the sexual assault to Bates. She notified the assistant principal, who brought in the school resource officer and ultimately the principal.

Lockhart claims her son was stripped of his dignity when he was forced to tell and retell the story of the assault.

"My son has a lot of emotional scars. ... I think this is for a jury to decide," Lockhart said.

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