Circuit Court Judge Martin F. Clark Jr. reaffirmed the jury’s verdict in a recent civil case, but also noted he expects the decision will be overturned by a higher court.
Clark’s ruling was included in an 18-page opinion written in connection with a civil suit between former principal Muriel Tamara (Tammy) Waldron and Schools Superintendent William D. Sroufe.
Following a three day trial earlier this spring, a jury awarded damages to Waldron of $500,000 in the case that alleged malice in Waldron’s transfer from principal at Stuart Elementary School to the Quest School, an alternative program for students suspended from traditional classes.
Clark cited transcripts of certain testimony before rendering his opinion, including some portions by school /administration officials such as Cyndi Williams, Ann Fulcher, Anita Epperly and Waldron.
Clark concluded that several facts from the trial are clear: including a jury’s finding that Waldron’s removal was mishandled. Although legal, Clark wrote the transfer “nevertheless revealed bad faith and malice” on Sroufe’s part. “I agree with this finding,” Clark wrote.
The school system is “struggling with division, discord and personal rivalries that cause workplace dysfunction. Several teachers and administrators are caught betwixt and between various feuding factions” and are unable to do their jobs as they should, Clark wrote.
Even so, Clark wrote that Sroufe’s statement “is not, as a matter of law, defamatory, and it will not support a verdict” in Waldron’s favor when the case is considered by a higher court.
Clark also addressed Waldron’s assertion that certain students were placed in different programs, such as VAAP, to help raise the school system’s scores in standardized testing.
“There is no VAAPing conspiracy designed to penalize innocent students for the personal or professional benefit” of Sroufe, Clark wrote. Though first “provoked and mistreated,” use of the VAAP “narrative as a trial tactic is unfair and unconscionable,” Clark wrote.
“While I am virtually certain this verdict is legally flawed and will not survive appellant scrutiny, I am also aware that seven objective citizens spoke in very loud and very clear terms, and I feel that their verdict is being completely ignored by the audience that should be most attentive,” Clark wrote.
“I am convinced that if I simply set aside this verdict then there will be a return to business as usual and that variety of business is the very mischief the prompted the biggest jury verdict in the history of this county,” Clark wrote.
“While I understand the school board has no financial exposure and is operating under the assumption (most likely correct) that this verdict is not legally sound and will be set aside – and therefore is not inclined to address the issue at the heart of this lawsuit – I would hope that my ruling … will give them the chance to explore precisely what is wrong in their system,” he wrote.
Noting the jury’s voice “needs to be heard a little bit longer,” Clark said “My hope is this verdict will be taken seriously and productively addressed in the months ahead” while the case is on appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.