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Martinsville school lawsuit becomes war of motions
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Martinsville school lawsuit becomes war of motions

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What began as a lawsuit by a former Martinsville High School student has turned into battle of words between her lawyer and the attorney for the Martinsville City School Board.

Myajah Dillard, a sophomore last year at the school, in July sued Martinsville Public Schools Superintendent Zebedee Talley Jr., MHS Principal Ajamu “Aji” Dixon and Shane McPeek, a member of the Martinsville Police Department who served as the resource officer for the high school. She alleges they failed to protect her from an attack that had been threatened.

On Oct. 2, Eric Monday, the school board’s attorney, fired back against what he termed an effort to “intimidate, harass and publicly embarrass” the school board and its chairman by the lawyer representing Myajah Dillard, the Berryville-based Glen Franklin Koontz.

The day before, Koontz filed a motion to compel the school board to comply with a subpoena to produce documents and to require board Chair Donna Dillard to show why the school board should not be held in contempt.

Koontz’ motion said the school board has not complied with a subpoena issued Aug. 12 and served on the school board two days later to produce documents on or before Sept. 5. He said that the school board did not comply with the subpoena and “simply ignored” it.

“The school board’s blatant disregard for the rule of law demonstrates contempt for this court, its authority and its procedures,” Koontz wrote in the motion. “And the school board’s contemptuous behavior is to the detriment of Miss Dillard in the prosecution of her cause.”

The next day, Monday filed his motion to dismiss Koontz’s because, he wrote, there was a motion to quash the previous subpoena for the school board to produce documents that had yet to be heard.

He also asked that “the costs incurred by the citizens of Martinsville by having to answer this frivolous and harassing pleading, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, be taxed to plaintiff.”

His motion indicates that after Koontz filed his subpoena to produce personnel files of Talley and Dixon on Aug. 12, the law firm representing Talley and Dixon — Daniel, Medley & Kirby of Martinsville – then filed a motion to quash.

The motion indicates that at the request of the attorneys for Talley and Dixon, Monday asked the school board not to answer the subpoena until the court has disposed of the motion to quash.

The motion filed by Monday indicates that on Sept. 28, Koontz emailed Monday concerning the school board’s response and was referred to lawyers for Talley and Dixon.

Koontz “replied that he took that response as a refusal to comply and would respond accordingly. No mention of the pending motion to quash was ever made,” Monday said in his motion.

Koontz then drafted his motion to compel the board and Donna Dillard to comply and sent it to the Martinsville Bulletin “without first filing it with this court (the clerk received it for filing the next day) and without first sending a courtesy copy to either defendants’ counsel, or to the undersigned [Eric Monday] (who has yet to receive it),” Monday’s motion says.

He said Koontz “does not acknowledge the existence” of the motion to quash, has never filed any response to the motion to quash and has never attempted bring the motion to quash to a hearing.

Monday said Koontz’s statements that he tried to resolve the matter without court action and his citing the school board’s “contemptuous behavior” are “both disingenuous.” Monday called the motion to compel “frivolous” and “overly dramatic.”

“It’s release directly to the news media prior to opposing counsel or this court, and its incendiary language, including an assertion that the School Board has a ‘blatant disregard for the rule of law,’ when in reality the School Board and defendants Talley and Dixon have complied with the rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia – all indicate that plaintiff intended merely to intimidate, harass, and publicly embarrass both the Martinsville City School Board and its chairman Donna Dillard,” Monday wrote.

He said the school board and Dillard aren’t parties to this action and accuses Koontz of trying to “deliberately embarrass an entity and an individual who are bystanders.”

Koontz responded with a “memorandum of law in opposition to Martinsville School Board’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s motion to compel.”

It says that a Virginia Supreme Court rule requires the person to whom a subpoena to produce documents is directed to respond appropriately. Specifically, it may command a person in possession of documents and things to produce for inspection and copying.

“In this case, the subpoena … directed the School Board to produce documents within its possession and control, relating and relevant to Miss Dillard’s claims,” Koontz stated in the motion. It says the school board did not file a motion for a protective order or to quash the subpoena; did not seek to negotiate a later time to respond to the subpoena; but rather simply ignored the subpoena.

The motion says the subpoena does not seek documents within the possession and control of Talley and Dixon, but rather documents within the school board’s possession and control.

It says the school board’s failure to respond is contemptuous of the court’s authority and lawful process.

“This court should not tolerate the School Board’s brazen and contemptuous actions. This court should deny the School Board’s motion and grant Miss Dillard’s show cause motion,” Koontz wrote.

The background

The Bulletin is using Myajah Dillard’s name because the lawsuit names her as plaintiff. The others are juveniles who are accused and are being identified only with initials.

The lawsuit alleges that about 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2018, Dillard received a Snapchat social media video sent by fellow MHS student KM. The video showed KM, SH, JR and another girl (T), all MHS students, “issuing vulgar, profane and violent threats against Myajah. Specifically, the students threatened to ‘beat up’ Myajah when all returned to school following the Labor Day holiday.”

The lawsuit alleges that Dillard’s family notified the school division and school officials about the threat, but that those officials did not adequately protect her and that she ultimately was “brutally attacked and beaten” by SH at Martinsville High School on Sept. 6, the same morning that KM appeared in Henry County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on charge(s) relating to KM allegedly sending the Snapchat threat of violence to Myajah on Sept. 1.

The suit says Dillard was taken to the hospital emergency room and treated for facial and scalp contusions and abrasions, that her face was grotesquely swollen as a result of the beating and that she had two black eyes and other bruises. The suit also claims psychological and emotional effects.

She never returned to Martinsville High School and ultimately transferred to Magna Vista.

In responding for Talley and Dixon, lawyers from Daniel, Medley & Kirby and those from a firm representing McPeek, Royer Law Firm in Roanoke, argued that Dillard has failed to prove that her charges meet the court’s definition for negligence.

For example, attorney Jennifer D. Royer says that in the lawsuit against McPeek, Dillard has not provided sufficient evidence to establish a claim for gross negligence or willful and wanton negligence. The filing said that McPeek is immune to being sued for ordinary negligence and that his relationship with Dillard was not a “special relationship” that would suggest “a duty to protect her from threats by the student who assaulted her.”

In a filing signed by Martha White Medley, of Daniel, Medley & Kirby, Dixon and Talley say that they have sovereign immunity in the matter and that the case should be dismissed. They also question whether the facts support the lawsuit.

Koontz also has filed motions to compel Talley and Dixon to provide complete answers to interrogatories and responses to requests for production of documents.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. in Martinsville Circuit Court on motions Koontz filed for Myajah Dillard to compel the school board to comply with the subpoena to produce documents and the motions to compel Talley and Dixon to provide complete answers to interrogatories and responses to requests for production of documents.

The lawsuit seeks at least $1.25 million in compensatory and punitive damages; legal costs; and other relief the court deems just.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

Paul Collins is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801, ext. 236.

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