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Hearing in sexual abuse lawsuit against NHCS ends, judge to make ruling “soon”

Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham said she will have a ruling on the issue “soon.”
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 10:21 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A hearing in a lawsuit filed by former New Hanover County teacher Mike Kelly’s victims concluded Thursday afternoon after three days of discussion by both sides. The school board’s attorneys say the statute of limitations has expired for at least ten of the victims to file a complaint.

[New Hanover County School Board wants judge to remove victims from suit]

Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham said she will have a ruling on the issue “soon.”

The hearing began Tuesday, when the attorneys representing the victims argued their clients should still be allowed to be a part of the lawsuit, despite a Superior Court three judge panel ruling part of the SAFE Child Act unconstitutional.

“This is statutorily valid,” said Joel Rhine, one of the attorneys representing Kelly’s victims. “There is no valid constitutional argument here and — so, we brought a motion to strike their affirmative offences that are based upon this flawed reasoning.”

While they wait for a judge’s ruling, Rhine and his team are willing to fight as long as they need so all of their clients can be represented.

“This is all unnecessary, but it’s part of the process,” Rhine said. “If they want to go down here, they have every right to do it. We will battle them [until] this is over.”

The attorneys representing the victims also said the school board did not protect students from Kelly’s abuse. The board’s attorney argued the district should not be held liable for Kelly’s crimes since they happened outside of his role as a teacher.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim the board is liable for protecting students, citing a statement from Superintendent Charles Foust in 2021 which said, “We are committed to doing everything we can to keep children safe.”

The lawsuit also cites the school board’s mission statement, which says the district’s mission is, in part, to provide a “safe and positive learning environment” for children.

“This case is important to our community. It’s important that we get it right,” said Martin Ramey, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case. “It’s important to the survivors of the abuse. It’s important to the people who have lost their lives so far in this case.”

WECT reached out to New Hanover County Schools for comment on the hearing, but have not received a response at the time of publication.

The trial for this case is scheduled to begin in September.

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