Tech relatives want representation on panel

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An attorney for families of 20 Virginia Tech shooting victims trying to join a panel investigating the April 16 massacre said yesterday family members would like representation either through the appointment of a new member or the designation of an existing member.

The lawyer, Thomas J. Fadoul Jr., cousin of student victim Reema Samaha, also said the victims’ families are scheduled to meet privately Saturday in Richmond with Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who appointed members to the panel.

Mr. Fadoul said the relatives want a representative who will be working “on a daily basis, in real time, and in the usual course of business of the investigatory arm of the panel.”

“The parents believe that unless it’s done while [investigators] are literally turning over each stone, their involvement will be diluted,” he said. “This after-the-fact, last-minute opportunity to review a completed report will not satisfy these parents.”

Families want access to all records and other evidence obtained by the panel, such as university mental-health records of student gunman Seung-hui Cho, released to the panel last week.

“The families don’t want to have to depend on consent by the Cho family for every single thing that they need to find,” Mr. Fadoul said. “We believe it should be a blanket consent for all records.”

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has been open to discussing ways for families to participate in the review but has no plans to appoint additional members to the panel, said Kevin Hall, the governor’s spokesman.

“The governor has consistently made it clear in the past week that he chose the panel members based on their objectivity and specialized expertise,” Mr. Hall said. “Their work is already well under way, and actual membership of the panel is not going to change. That being said, we are in discussions with Mr. Fadoul and others over ways we might improve the channels of communication between families and the staff of the independent review panel.”

Mr. Fadoul, who spoke to reporters at a conference of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, dismissed the argument that a family member would be too blinded by emotions to “think through this and ask intelligent questions.”

He also questioned the objectivity of the existing, eight-member panel, which he described as “a state government watching a state agency.”

“It’s a case of the fox watching the chicken coop,” Mr. Fadoul said.

The lawyer said his clients plan to issue their second joint statement after this weekend’s meeting but declined to speculate on whether they plan to file lawsuits.

“I think it’s premature to speak about litigation in general,” Mr. Fadoul said. “The last thing that is on the minds of these parents is personal gain. … Never has the issue of litigation been raised at all.”

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