- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. | A judge said Monday that he would rule by Jan. 15 on whether to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the families of two students slain in the mass shootings at Virginia Tech.

After hearing arguments in Montgomery County, visiting Circuit Court Judge William Alexander said he was prepared to rule but wanted to announce his decision after spending the next month preparing a written order.

He also directed Robert T. Hall, attorney for the families of slain students Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde, to draft an order that would “desuit” defendants Virginia Tech police Chief Wendell Flinchum, Dean of Students Tom Brown, General Counsel Kay Heidbreder, Cook Counseling Center Director Chris Flynn and Cook Counseling Center employee Sandra Ward. That action is similar to a dismissal but gives Mr. Hall six months to reinstate them as defendants if he learns of any evidence through the discovery process that could prove them culpable.

Peterson and Pryde’s families claim in lawsuits seeking $10 million that the state, Virginia Tech, and university and mental health officials were grossly negligent by not immediately warning students of two shootings that occurred at 7:15 a.m. April 16, 2007, in a dormitory. The families say the two-hour delay in notifying faculty and staff was the result of officials putting concerns about the school’s image above campus safety.

The lawsuits also say a local health center where student gunman Seung-hui Cho had reported that he felt suicidal did not adequately treat or monitor him.

Most of the families of slain students accepted their share of an $11 million state settlement.

Cho killed 32 people before taking his own life in April 2007 during the nation’s worst mass shooting. His estate also is named as a defendant.

Assistant Attorney General Mike F. Melis said officials were not negligent because they took actions based on the information they had available to them at the time.

“They had no reason to believe any other shootings would occur,” he told the judge. “They did not have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”

Mr. Melis also argued that school President Charles W. Steger and others should be extended sovereign immunity because their positions are established and funded by the state.

Mr. Hall said school officials are not entitled to claim sovereign immunity.

Officials still don’t know why Cho, a loner who had attracted little attention, killed so many people.

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