The judge hearing two wrongful death lawsuits arising from the Virginia Tech shootings has denied a motion to kick the attorney general out of the case.
Robert Hall, lawyer for the families of two shooting victims, argued the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli should be disqualified for his public criticism of the plaintiffs’ claims.
Circuit Judge William Alexander ruled Cuccinelli’s comment did not justify barring him. “I can’t find it warrants kicking him and his office out of this case,” Alexander said at a Friday hearing.
Alexander questioned whether he even had authority to exclude the attorney general. “There is no rule in Virginia, or case law that’s been pointed out, that would allow me to do this.”
Cuccinelli used an April news conference regarding a federal fine imposed on Virginia Tech to point out the absence of evidence on a key claim of the plaintiffs – the claim that some Tech officials opposed an early warning about a campus shooter because of concerns about the school’s image.
“These are serious allegations. The public has an interest in knowing that – right now – there is nothing to support them,” argued Assistant Attorney General Mike Melis.
Hall said Cuccinelli’s statements were calculated to poison the jury pool. “He’s using the bully pulpit of his position to engage in a focused and reckless attack on the plaintiffs in this litigation,” he said.
Discovery continues in the Virginia Tech cases, which are headed for trial in September. A hearing on summary judgment motions is scheduled for Aug. 30.
By Peter Vieth