NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A judge ruled Friday that the Newport News School Board will have to provide documents to the legal team of Abby Zwerner, the teacher who was shot and seriously injured Jan. 6 by a six-year-old child in her classroom.
Zwerner’s legal team filed a $40 million lawsuit in April, and they also filed a motion to have a judge force the Newport News School Board to share a large number of records with them, including those of school staff, students and discipline.
In particular, they asked for the contact information of all Newport News first-grade teachers. They also asked for several personnel files, specifically those of the administrators named the lawsuit, as well as Zwerner’s own file.
“We had not been provided the information we needed to essentially identify individuals that would be relevant for our deposition,” Kevin Biniazan, a member of Zwerner’s legal team, said.
During their scheduled hearing, the judge ruled that discovery, basically the sharing of information between parties about witnesses and evidence, can go forward in the case. It means Zwerner’s legal team should receive the documents they have requested.
The parties did agree, however, to a protective order to protect the identities of minors and not disclose personal information.
“We’ve asked for the identity of all the first-grade teachers. We want to know whether the Newport News teachers school teacher that is first-grade teachers think it’s an actual danger to be shot by a six-year-old. That’s what we want to know,” Biniazan said.
Added Zwerner attorney Diane Toscano: “We need that information to depose those teachers and move forward with discovery.”
The School Board had only handed over a limited amount of documents, arguing the records were either sensitive or irrelevant to the case.
“We are dealing with an elementary school. We have children and we also have federal education laws that will prevent some of the discovery,” Anne Lahren, attorney for the school board, said.
The board wanted discovery to be delayed until the judge had decided whether this court has jurisdiction. The School Board believes this is a Virginia Workers Compensation Act issue because Zwerner was shot while at work.
“It would make sense whether the court can hear the case before an entire trial proceeds with extensive discovery,” Lahren said.
Zwerner’s legal team says, however, that no first-grade teacher expects to be shot.
“The normal processes are ultimately when cases are filed, if there are defenses that are raised, if it’s a plea in bar, there is always discovery that’s conducted beforehand,” Biniazan said.
“That is something that we feel has been outrageous in this case,” Toscano said, “to delay the discovery process in order to get to the plea in bar. So today was a good victory for us.”
Now that discovery has been granted, Zwerner’s defense feels like they can move forward.
“It’s a hurdle we have overcome, obviously,” Biniazan said, “and now we get to get to the meat of this and get to the meat of this and get some truth out of it.”
Her team said another takeaway was getting dates set for later this year, “to actually get dates set so we can move this case along and get Abby some justice sooner rather than later.”