Contributors, Cops and Courts

Miracle Meadows cases to stay in Kanawha County court

CHARLESTON — The remaining civil cases involving the now defunct Miracle Meadows School in Salem will remain in Kanawha County Circuit Court following a judge’s ruling.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Dave Hardy rejected a motion by defense attorneys this week who wanted to move the cases to Harrison County.

“This feels like a Hail Mary to be honest,” Hardy told defense attorney Jen Tully. “It would be a terrible idea to move these. I’m going to deny the motion.”

Nearly 140 cases, representing former students, have been filed against the school, which was in existence from 1987 to 2014. Attorneys said 110 of those cases have settled for more than $100 million. Six of the 27 remaining cases are also expected to settle soon.

The school’s director, Gayle Clark, was convicted of child neglect and failing to report in Harrison County and sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. The Harrison County Sheriff’s Department uncovered multiple allegations of sex abuse and physical assault at the school. The school, founded by Clark and her husband, had operated as a boarding school targeting at-risk youth, including those with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. The school accepted children ages 6-17.

Attorney Ben Salango has represented the plaintiffs in 86 of the cases. He said the school, which is basically now the insurance companies, wanted a second bite of the apple to move the cases after the appointment of Hardy following the death of Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.

“There were hundreds of children who were starved, tortured, sexually abused, it’s a shame,” Salango said. “Judge Hardy saw through the arguments and he got it right. Venue was appropriate in Kanawha County and we’re looking forward to getting these (remaining) cases before a jury in Kanawha County.”

Salango and Charleston attorney Jesse Forbes continue to get phone calls from former Miracle Meadows students and their families. The statute of limitations for child sexual assault cases in West Virginia allows cases to be filed by victims until they’re 36 years old.

Forbes said he expects to continue getting calls when impacted families find out about the legal action that began some seven years ago.

“There’s no one with a straight face who can dispute what happened to these kids. There is no defense to this and there should be no defense to this and these cases have continued to resolve over the years,” Forbes said.

The school is defunct. Clark has served her time and moved to Florida. It’s the insurance companies that are the defendants, led by the state’s Board of Risk and Insurance Management, which has paid out millions, Salango said.

“It’s an insurance policy that was issued (by BRIM) back before 2014 that still provides coverage today for all of the abuse that occurred,” Salango said. “It’s one of those issues that BRIM issued a policy to a private school and the school turned out to be a torture chamber.”

Hardy reminded the attorneys in this week’s hearing that Tabit had issued an extensive order on the venue question two years ago, citing state law that the cases should remain in Kanawha County. He said nothing has changed.

“Her ruling was spot on,” Hardy said.