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Lawyers in injury lawsuit against schools argue over motions

By Tom Hallberg, Jackson Hole Daily

Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Lawyers for Teton County School District No. 1’s insurance company and a family suing the district sparred Wednesday over motions asking the district for information related to a collision in Casper in 2017 that left a man with severe injuries.

Court documents say Rick Walsh, a resident of Natrona County, was riding his motorized bicycle Oct. 4, 2017, in Casper when Kelsey Clark, a school district bus driver, hit him. The two collided when Clark turned left as Walsh was riding through the intersection.

The lawsuit, which is seeking at least $1 million in damages, alleges that in making the left-hand turn Clark ignored the traffic signal, failed to signal his own turn, failed to look for oncoming traffic and failed to yield the right of way to Walsh — “causing the school district bus to strike Mr. Walsh and his motorized bicycle.”

One of Clark’s lawyers, Bob Schuster, argued in Teton County District Court on Wednesday that the school district is stonewalling the discovery process by insisting that fulfilling some of the requests regarding Clark’s personnel information would constitute a privacy violation.

“The school district is an amorphous thing that has meaning because it has employees,” Schuster told Judge James Radda. “They act for the entity: The district doesn’t drive a bus. To try to preclude discovery to employees and information from personnel files renders the whole process absurd.”

The lawsuit states that Walsh now lives in a group home and requires 24-hour care. His mother, Jacqueline Willis, has been legally appointed conservator and guardian of her 57-year-old son. In representing Willis and Clark, Schuster submitted requests for a broad range of information from the district, including repair records for the bus Clark was driving, emails and information related to anyone who might have trained him, and district safety procedures.

When reached Thursday morning, TCSD Information Coordinator Charlotte Reynolds confirmed that Clark still works for the district and said the district could offer no further comment on the ongoing litigation.

Cody Jerabek, the lawyer for the district’s insurance company, told Judge Radda that the school district had in fact complied with requests, such as sending the repair records. However, he said, the plaintiff’s requests for things like any emails that could be related to that bus were onerous and impossible to fulfill because of their expansive scope.

“I don’t know what form of description would be more fact-oriented than the repair records,” he said in court.

In arguing against producing emails and records for staff, Jerabek said personal information about employees not involved in the litigation could be swept up in finding things that were related to Clark.

The district, he said, has a duty to protect that information and shouldn’t be compelled to simply hand over reams of documentation without some way of ensuring employees’ information wouldn’t be compromised.

Schuster argued that the district hadn’t truly demonstrated the need for privacy.

“There isn’t one mention in the briefs that shows what might be the privacy concern,” he told Judge Radda.

Radda floated a compromise that Jerabek conceded would allow the district to comply with the discovery requests while protecting employee privacy.

He suggested an in-camera review, a legal term for when a judge considers the evidence and decides what sensitive information can be brought out in court.

Jerabek was amenable to that idea, saying it would be the best way to move forward. Radda did not conclude in court whether he would order such a review, saying he would issue an order in the coming days. Radda also did not set a trial date, though Schuster previously said he thought a trial might take place in January.

In arguing for the expansive requests for discovery Wednesday, Schuster said he wasn’t asking for a “fishing expedition,” and he asserted that the school district and its lawyers were tailoring their searches through district records in ways that weren’t turning up every available piece of relevant information.

Jerabek vehemently denied that the district was obfuscating in any way.

“We have produced a plethora of information,” he said. “I’m not over here hiding information based on nuances of my wording.”