Friday, May 2, 2014

See You In Court

Some of you may recall a 2007 incident that resulted in then-current Methacton School Board president (and LP resident) James Van Horn stepping down from that post in December of that year. While he remained on the school board until the end of his term, he did not run for re-election in 2009. That incident can be viewed below:

Worcester resident Dr. James Mollick was filming a school board meeting, as he was frequently known to do and which is perfectly legal. According to published reports at the time ("Van Horn to Face Charges", Times Herald 12-14-07,  "Van Horn Pleads to Lesser Charge", Times Herald 3-14-08 and "Methacton School Board Meeting Incident", Times Herald 2007), when Van Horn noticed Mollick still filming after the conclusion of the meeting, he left the dias and charged toward Mollick, allegedly assaulting him in front of several witnesses; Mollick wound up being thrown over a couple of rows of seats in the audience. Van Horn has claimed ever since that he was going after the camera, not Mollick, and claimed at the time he was never charged with assault, but Mollick wound up with what are apparently serious injuries.

 Originally charged with harassment, Van Horn plead guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in 2008 and paid a fine , but the civil suit Mollick filed against him and Methacton School District in 2008 is still ongoing six years later. Methacton’s two insurance carriers requested in May 2013 to intervene and apparently all attempts to arrive at a negotiated settlement fell short. After years of delays, the case is headed for trial, scheduled to begin on May 5.

 An elected Republican committeeman (in a section of Audubon) and the current municipal leader of the Lower Providence Republican Party, he is currently running for re-election in the May 20 primary.

Van Horn, second from right
 Van Horn, who earned something of a reputation as a bully based on accounts I’ve heard from numerous colleagues and adversaries over his 20 year tenure on the school board (one of whom resigned over this), is still believed to have wielded considerable influence with subsequent (and the current) school board. I have personally observed how Van Horn gets wrapped up in the selection and promotion of school board candidates – to the exclusion of almost all else. I and other candidates for local offices in recent years have been somewhat annoyed that his almost-exclusive focus on school board races has resulted in non-school board candidates’ campaigns being virtually ignored.

Sources who wish to remain anonymous tell me that the parties are ‘miles apart’ from settling, and thus the trial is expected to be a go. Van Horn is evidently sticking to his guns and confident that by rolling the dice in court he will prevail against Mollick. I’m told Mollick’s career as an OB-GYN has come to a standstill ever since the incident in which he alleges he sustained serious and career-ending injuries.

 The records were sealed early on in an effort to protect Mollick’s tax and professional information, but voir dire rules for jury selection are being hashed out now and jury empanelment will begin May 2 in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Judge Kelly Walls’ courtroom.

UPDATE: As I was drafting this, I called the judge’s clerk to get an estimate of how long the trial was expected to last. I was advised that the case was believed to have reached settlement today (5/1) , although nothing formal had been received by the Court as of 4 pm. I was able to confirm later that the case had indeed settled for an undisclosed amount. 

The extensive case docket reveals a flurry of activity in the last couple of days on several dozen pending motions, and several orders were handed down which appear to have been detrimental to Van Horn’s defense. Several others were deferred to be dealt with at trial instead of being dismissed outright. Again, the pleadings are sealed, so I can’t tell for sure, but perhaps Van Horn saw the handwriting on the wall and decided not to take his chances with a jury.  

Of course, we will likely never know how much the parties agreed to settle for, and it’s typical in personal injury litigation to keep such information confidential. But the bigger questions are: how much did Methacton School District have to spend in legal fees to defend their former school board president over those six years - I've heard upwards of $100,000, but don't quote me on that -, and how much of the settlement exceeds their insurance coverage limits and must be paid out of pocket? How much of that will we taxpayers be paying for next year in the form of a tax increase?

In the meantime, if Van Horn hopes to remain active in local government and politics, perhaps he might want to invest in an anger management class.