By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Attorneys for Justin Layshock and the Hermitage School District said they believe they can agree on how much money Justin should receive from the district for violating his civil rights.
Kim M. Watterson, an attorney representing Justin, said in a motion filed Monday that attorneys for both sides are hoping to head off a trial to determine compensatory damages and legal fees.
Justin, a Hickory High School graduate, was to file a pretrial statement Monday, but Ms. Watterson asked to postpone that deadline, along with an Aug. 20 deadline for the school district to file its pretrial statement.
Ms. Watterson said attorneys will report on settlement progress within two weeks to U.S. District Court Judge Terrence F. McVerry, Pittsburgh. If the sides cannot resolve the case, they will ask McVerry to set new deadlines, she said.
Justin and his parents sued the district and administrators Superintendent Karen A. Ionta and Hickory co-principals Eric W. Trosch and Chris Gill over the punishment meted out against Justin for posting an unflattering profile of Trosch on Myspace.com in December 2005.
Administrators suspended Justin, now 19 and a student at St. John’s University, New York, for 10 days, assigned him to an alternative education program and barred him from school activities. Administrators later allowed him back into his regular classes and he participated in his class’s graduation ceremony in the spring of 2006.
Earlier this month, McVerry ruled that Justin’s profile, while “lewd, profane and sexually inappropriate,” was not obscene and his conduct occurred off school boundaries.
District officials had to show the profile caused a “substantial disruption” of the school day, but could not separate the disruption Justin’s profile caused from other Web profiles posted about Trosch and the disruption brought on by school officials and teachers as word spread in the school about the profiles and the administration’s investigation. McVerry described the disruption as minimal.
McVerry also removed the administrators and Justin’s parents, Don and Cheryl Layshock of Hermitage, from the suit.
In a related matter, a separate federal judge, Nora Barry Fischer, has put another lawsuit on hold until a Mercer County suit is resolved.
Trosch, who is now principal of Hermitage Middle School, filed a defamation suit in Mercer County Common Pleas Court against Layshock, Thomas Cooper and Brendan and Christopher Gebhart over the Myspace profiles. The Gebharts’ parents, Dr. James R. and Cynthia A. Gebhart, had a homeowner’s insurance policy at the time with Cincinnati Insurance Company that included personal injury coverage, and want the company to defend the boys.
Cincinnati argued the Gebharts knew their profile was defamatory and not true, which voided the policy requirement to defend them. The company, which has hired an attorney for the Gebharts, has asked Judge Fischer to declare that it does not have to defend the Gebharts.
By Joe Pinchot