Peter Vieth//May 5, 2011
Peter Vieth//May 5, 2011//
The lawyer for the families suing Virginia Tech over the April 16 shootings says Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli should step aside from representing the school because of his public comments about the lawsuits.
Accusing Cuccinelli of jeopardizing a fair trial, Robert T. Hall is asking Judge William Alexander to disqualify the attorney general’s office from the two $10-million wrongful death cases.
Hall pointed to Cuccinelli’s comments at a recent news conference and the posting of discovery documents from the case on the attorney general’s website.
“By posting only material deemed helpful to his side of the case and omitting all that he deemed harmful, the Attorney General committed an assault on fair play and a fair trial,” Hall wrote in a motion filed Wednesday.
The motion has no merit, responded a spokesman for Cuccinelli. “[W]e will address the specifics in court,” said Brian Gottstein at the attorney general’s office.
Cuccinelli’s office represents the Commonwealth, university president Charles Steger and former Executive Vice-President James Hyatt in the two lawsuits scheduled for a Sept. 29 trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Cuccinelli used an April 27 news conference regarding a federal fine imposed on Virginia Tech to suggest a link between the imposition of the fine and the upcoming civil trial. Cuccinelli said recent filings in the case demonstrated the plaintiffs had no evidence on a key claim in the case, calling the revelation “stunning.”
At the time, Hall responded by criticizing Tech attorneys’ cooperation in the discovery process. He said documents previously withheld as confidential had just been disclosed.
In his motion this week, Hall quotes Cuccinelli’s broadly worded statements about Tech’s involvement in the shootings, suggesting the attorney general’s message was calculated to resonate with defense themes at trial. “[H]e consciously elected to demonize the Plaintiffs … as though they were co-conspirators with the Department of Education,” Hall wrote.
“[T]his was not an off the cuff, unrehearsed effort by ordinary counsel to respond to a press inquiry…, but a planned and coordinated effort to pitch his version of ‘the truth’ to a hopefully welcoming audience,” Hall wrote.
The critical issue at the center of the controversy is Hall’s theory that a number of Tech leaders were so concerned about the school’s image that they delayed issuing a warning about an early morning double murder on April 16, 2007.
Hall has admitted in court documents he does not have evidence to show a so-called “image group” among Tech leaders. Hall, however, still is pursuing efforts to obtain notes made by Tech lawyers during an emergency meeting on the morning of April 16.
Hall has admitted in court documents that he does not have evidence of a conversation among Tech officials about the image of the school between the first shooting and the later one in which 30 faculty and students were killed.