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School Board asks for continuance

Sherri Story will have her first day in Suffolk Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. July 13 in her civil lawsuit she filed against the rest of the Suffolk School Board for alleged violations of the state’s open meetings laws.

However, the attorney representing the Suffolk School Board, Ann Sullivan, asked the court on July 7 for a continuance in the case and renewed its motion for a bill of particulars — a detailing of the charges against it.

The motion states that the board needs “a fair opportunity to respond or prepare the case, and the bill of particulars does not provide all information and specificity requested in the motion for a bill of particulars.”

Story is suing Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum, Vice Chair Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck and members Karen Jenkins, Lorita Mayo and Tyron Riddick. She has accused the five board members of disregarding open-meetings laws. David Mitnick, who sides with Story often on the board, is named only as a “nominal defendant entitled to notice.”

Story’s attorney, Kevin Martingayle has said that because the board has refused to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, it is now moving ahead with litigation. They filed a 12-page complaint June 18. The lawsuit came after the board censured Story by a 5-2 vote at its June 11 meeting, with Story and Mitnick voting not to censure.

Sullivan, on behalf of the board, filed a motion for a bill of particulars July 1, which was recorded in the court July 2. The continuance motion stated that Story and her attorney, Kevin Martingayle, would respond fully to the motion for a bill of particulars July 6, and that he would file it with the court the following day, though he would not agree to any extension of the hearing date.

Though a bill of particulars was provided to the board at 4:07 p.m. July 6, according to Sullivan, her motion states that it was not specific enough.

It said the allegation that the Suffolk School Board’s records of proceedings fails to reflect votes of individual members “and the purported ‘certification’ does not reflect what was actually read and publicly stated in the meeting,” did not include either the dates or titles of the “other Suffolk School Board records of proceedings” Story has alleged to be deficient.

Also, the board asked that Story provide more specifics on her allegation about School Board motions being “overly vague,” specifically with the dates those took place, as well the date or dates in which closed meeting discussions are alleged to have gone off topic, the dates of the allegedly incorrect certifications and the “important decisions” which have been alleged to have been made through “improper, illegal votes or with no votes at all.”

“Given that Plaintiff alleges that even a single violation entitles her to mandamus, injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and costs and other relief,” the board’s motion states, “the information and specificity requested in Defendants’ bill of particulars is crucial to provide Defendants a fair opportunity to respond and prepare their case as required by the authority cited above.”

The continuance motion also states that the motion for a bill of particulars was needed since Story’s own bill of particulars is 46 pages long and includes allegations from January 2019 through June 2020, “far beyond the two discrete School Board meetings in April 2020 and June 2020 which were alleged in the complaint.”

The bill of particulars Martingayle filed July 6 stated that even though Story contends the motion was not made in compliance with Supreme Court of Virginia rules, she agreed to address and supplement her initial complaint with additional information.

The board’s motion said it anticipates that the trial would extend beyond one day, and that because Story’s bill of particulars includes specific new allegations, it may require the board, and Sullivan, to subpoena additional witnesses to include Mayor Linda T. Johnson, Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett and other city officials.

Besides the board members, others Martingayle has subpoenaed include Suffolk Public Schools’ Executive Director of Finance Wendy Forsman, board clerk Tarshia Gardner, Director of Technology John Littlefield, Dr. Deborah Wahlstrom, Margaret Diggs and Patricia Holloman.

“It is apparent from the numerous alleged types of violations and the numerous alleged occasions of each violation that this petition,” the motion states, “is a cumulative and complex attack on the systems which have been in place for an extensive period of time.”

On July 6, Martingayle filed a response to Sullivan’s motion to strike a claim for declaratory and other relief in the case, saying the court should provide Story with all of the relief she has requested, though she has asked that the court reserve a ruling on attorney’s fees and costs until a later date, after there is an initial ruling on her case.