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Judge weighing defenses to VT claims

A circuit court judge appeared skeptical about the plaintiffs’ efforts to overcome sovereign immunity defenses for state officials in the Virginia Tech shooting cases.

Franklin County Circuit Judge William Alexander heard arguments Monday on various defenses raised in two $10-million lawsuits filed against state officials and others by the families of two victims of the 2007 campus shootings.

A lawyer for Virginia Tech officials argued the university’s president and vice-president are entitled to absolute immunity.  Other officials are subject only to claims of gross negligence, argued Mike Melis, adding the facts pleaded fall short of gross negligence.

Not so, responded Robert Hall, lawyer for the victims’ families.  He claimed members of a Virginia Tech emergency policy group were grossly negligent by failing to promptly send a general warning after the first shootings on April 16, 2007.

Alexander seemed to disagree.  “They tried to do something, even if it was wrong,” he said.

We’ll have to wait to learn the judge’s decision.  Alexander said he had planned to rule from the bench Monday, but decided instead to produce a written opinion by Jan. 15.

At least five defendants will have a happier holiday season.  Hall nonsuited three Virginia Tech employees and two employees of VT’s Cook Counseling Center.

By Peter Vieth

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