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Trial date set for teacher sex assault lawsuit against NHCS

Insurance issues have prevented the parties from settling outside of court
Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 2:43 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The lawsuit against the New Hanover County School Board, former Teacher of the Year Mike Kelly, and former school administrators is set to go to trial September 26, 2022. It’s one of the latest developments in a teacher sex assault lawsuit first filed in 2019. The lawsuit was just amended again this week to add yet another plaintiff, a former student who says Kelly molested him.

In June 2019. Kelly pleaded guilty to 59 criminal charges, including sexual exploitation of a minor, indecent liberties with a student and indecent liberties with a child. Kelly was sentenced to 17.6 - 31.25 years in prison. The following month, attorneys representing some of the victims filed a civil lawsuit against Kelly and school administrators.

The plaintiff’s attorneys had hoped to settle the case outside court, but Liberty Mutual, the insurance carrier for New Hanover County Schools, is trying to shield its liability in the case. According to an attorney for the school system, the company says it is only responsible for a total of $4 million worth of coverage for potential payments to more than a dozen victims. The school board believes their policy provides far more coverage than that, and has sued Liberty Mutual, trying to force them to pay. But without a settlement offer the plaintiffs are willing to accept, this case is moving toward trial.

“We believe this trial will take between four and six weeks. It is a big deal and it is very expensive and it’s really not good for anyone,” Plaintiff’s Attorney Joel Rhine told WECT. “There will be no joy on either side when we go to trial. It’s going to force these kids to relive all of what they’ve gone through before; the board is not going to like what they’re having to hear, certainly [former school administrators] [Tim] Markley and [Rick] Holliday aren’t going to like it.”

This week, John Doe 14 was added as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the school board. He was a student at Isaac Bear Early College High School (IBECHS) from 2008 - 2012, enrolled in Kelly’s science classes.

“Kelly took a keen interest in the boy early during his enrollment at IBECHS and began exposing his penis to John Doe 14 and other students,” the latest version of lawsuit reads. “At some point in his junior year, Kelly took the boy on an extracurricular outing where he and the boy stayed alone in the same hotel room.... At one point, Kelly got down on his knees while the boy’s penis was exposed and Kelly asked the boy to allow Kelly to perform oral sex on him. At that point Kelly had his own penis out and was semi-erect.”

The amended complaint also alleges that Kelly exposed himself to John Doe 14 in excess of 100 times during his high school attendance, often inside the classroom, and would grab the boys penis and/or ask the boy to touch Kelly’s penis. Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Kelly of giving John Doe 14 rides home from school with the knowledge of school administrators.

The lawsuit notes that John Doe 14 has suffered debilitating physical and psychological injuries as a result of Kelly’s behavior. These claims are in keeping with prior accusations against Kelly from other former students who have joined the lawsuit.

The latest version of the lawsuit also claims that the New Hanover County School Board deprived students of their constitutional right to a “sound basic education” by allowing Kelly’s behavior to go unchecked even after parents and students complained about his behavior.

“For some 20 years, the New Hanover County Board of Education has turned a blind eye to the prevention of sexual abuse of its students at the hands of educators. The Board of Education in particular, through its members, has allowed that abuse to become chronic and systemic at the hands of multiple predators like Defendant Kelly,” the lawsuit states. The school board members who were serving at the time of Kelly’s crimes are no longer on the board.

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