New Hanover County School Board wants judge to remove victims from suit
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s been four years since former New Hanover County Schools teacher of the year Mike Kelly was arrested and pleaded guilty to 59 criminal charges for sex crimes against students. And a civil lawsuit has been ongoing almost as long.
Kelly pleaded guilty to 59 charges on June 25, including sexual exploitation of minor, indecent liberties with a student and indecent liberties with a child, and was sentenced to spend 17-31 years in prison for his crimes. Many of the crimes occurred on school grounds. Kelly was teacher of the year at Isaac Bear Early College High School. Before that, he taught science at Laney High School.
On Tuesday, attorneys representing more than a dozen victims in this case attended a hearing where they argued their case as to why their clients should be granted the right to be a party to the lawsuit, despite a State Court of Appeals ruling that rolled back a change to statutory limitations.
The NC Court of Appeals ruled part of a law called the SAFE Child Act in 2021, was unconstitutional.
The act was passed in 2019 by state lawmakers and it did several things. Importantly, it changed the statute of limitations so that victims who were abused under the age of 18, have until they are 28 to file against their abusers in Civil Court.
It also opened a window of two years following a felony conviction that allows any victim, regardless of when the abuse occurred, to file a civil claim against their abuser. Previously, the statute of limitations would have made these victims ‘time barred.’
“I am disappointed with this decision,” said Attorney General Josh Stein when the decision was made. “I continue to believe it is constitutional, and will continue to defend the law if the decision is appealed.”
The lawsuit has a total of 14 victims, but now the New Hanover Board of Education wants to remove at least ten of them.
The board’s attorney claims the statute of limitations has expired for these victims to file a complaint.
While the attorneys for the victims say their clients have the right to file suit.
Martin Ramey is one of the attorneys representing the victims, he says the culture at New Hanover County Schools is troubling, and it’s something that has been seen time and time again.
“I think over the course of two decades, something like 24 or 25 teachers who were convicted, arrested, charged with felony sex offenses against children in this district — this is Wilmington, this not Los Angles or New York — we’re a small community. There is no excuse for this number of predators to be in our schools,” he said.
The hearing will resume on Wednesday at 3 p.m. and while it could wrap up then, it’s not clear when the judge will issue her ruling on the matter.
If the outcome is for the School Board, Ramey said he and the other attorneys won’t stop fighting.
“We will fight like hell to appeal that decision, there is a reason we are all going to be wearing these today to honor and support survivors of sexual abuse. We’re prepared to take this case to the North Carolina Supreme Court if we have to; we think we’ve got a good argument,” he said.
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