Role in Investigation Doesn't Bar Counsel
(CN) - A school district's counsel cannot be disqualifed from a case involving an allegedly abusive wrestling coach simply because they performed the initial investigation into the claims, a federal judge ruled.
Lori Moeck and her minor son and daughter, identified respectively as C.M. and A.M. in the court record, claim that high school wrestling coach, Mark Getz, taught through "misogynist and homophobic" intimidation and humiliation.
The Palmerton, Pa., family sued the Broadheadsville, Pa.-based Pleasant Valley School District and various officials in May 2013, claiming they ignored Getz's behavior.
Once A.M. was allowed to join the boys' wrestling team, as Pleasant Valley has no separate girls' team, her coaches "would often engage in gender discrimination by asking A.M. if she had gotten her period 'cause we see your pad,'" the 22-page complaint states.
The coaches recounted their first sexual encounters in "graphic detail" to the team, and one coach once discussed a "threesome" with A.M, according to the lawsuit.
Getz also yelled at A.M. to "get her balls to the mat," the family claims.
Plus, when C.M. was a 14-year-old, 145-pound freshman, he was allegedly forced to wrestle a 220-pound student who threw him through a pair of double doors on Dec. 3, 2012.
Getz called C.M. a "fucking pussy, a quitter" and "a fucking faggot" when the kid said he was "done," and then "ran him across the entire wrestling room into the back wall of the gymnasium, causing him to smash his head and back into the wall," the complaint states.
C.M. was soon vomiting, as was his sister months later, when Getz forced her to wrestle "'full on' nonstop, with no water," then "simply stood by and laughed," the family says.
The coach allegedly kept students "in line and ... silent" by threatening to prevent them from getting college scholarships, until he was suspended in March 2013.
The Moecks assert Fifth and 14th Amendment claims for assault and battery and state-created danger, state-law claims for assault and battery and emotional distress, and sexual harassment and discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
The district and several officials moved to sever C.M.'s claims from his sister's "unrelated" ones, but U.S. District Judge James Munley denied the motion last year.
The Moecks moved to disqualify counsel, Julia and Michael Levin and the Levin Legal Group P.C., who represent all defendants but Getz, on May 28, 2014.
The family says the Levins are necessary witnesses who cannot also serve as counsel, as they investigated claims the Moecks made against the school district before filing suit.
But Munley tossed that claim July 9, finding that though the Levins "may have had some role in the investigation," they are not necessary witnesses and do not plan to testify.
"Plaintiffs assert that Ms. Levin requested and obtained hand-written accounts of students who witnessed the incident with plaintiff C.M. and defendant Getz," Munley wrote. "In their opposition to the motion, the defendants claim that this concern is factually inaccurate and that Ms. Levin had no involvement in obtaining the witness reports. In their reply to the defendants' opposition, the plaintiffs do not address this evidence. We find, therefore, that for purposes of this motion, the defendants have established that Ms. Levin was not involved in requesting and obtaining the hand-written student accounts."
The judge further held that while Levin was present at witness interviews in March 2013, she was not alone, but assisting school officials conduct the interviews.
"Ms. Levin is therefore not a necessary witness regarding these interviews," Munley wrote. "To the extent that these interviews are relevant, [Assistant Superintendent Anthony] Fadule and/or [Principal John] Gress could testify regarding them. Testimony from Ms. Levin would merely be cumulative."
Though the court agreed that the Moecks' motion improperly raises discovery issues, the family may request a discovery conference in the future.