A lawyer for the Kern High School District alleges that attorneys representing a former student in a controversial civil suit ready to go to trial next month are attempting to taint the jury pool, and as a result are asking for a gag order and change of venue, court filings show.
The request is attorney Michael Kellar's second attempt in two weeks to sway a judge into barring those involved in the case from talking to the media. Kellar represents KHSD.
It comes the same week that at least two television news stations and The Californian ran stories about Mitch Carter, a former Bakersfield High School student who was beaten up during a pep rally in 2010 by a mob of students. Carter was portraying a chicken, meant to emulate the mascot of a rival, the Clovis West High golden eagle.
In those stories, Carter's attorney, Ralph Wegis, referenced a 2005 incident involving a BHS teacher who also donned the costume of a rival mascot during a pep rally and was injured by students.
“KHSD submits that the recent statements in the media by Wegis mislead the public into believing that (Carter) has sustained life-altering injuries in the incident … that the subject incident was foreseeable, and that KHSD is liable … because exactly the same type of incident had occurred in 2005,” Kellar wrote in an ex parte motion filed in Kern County Superior Court Friday.
Kellar calls Wegis' statements to the media “deceptive, misleading and false,” and “designed to taint the jury pool” in the motion.
He would not comment on the gag order or the pending trial.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on pending litigated matters,” Kellar said.
Joseph Low, a trial lawyer also representing Carter, called the attempts a “violation of the First Amendment.”
“It's maddening that they'd even ask for a gag order. They don't like how this is going in the press … and now they're trying to stop that from happening,” Low said.
Low added that Kellar attempted to get evidence thrown out of the case, including the similar 2005 attack against a BHS teacher. The same activities director was present for that incident, Low said.
“She knew that before she asked Mitch (Carter), a student, to go out there. The teachers refused so she asked Mitch (Carter) to go out there. She had a good relationship with him and he was kind of a 'yes-boy' at the time,” Low said. “Why would she send him out there fully knowing what happened before?”
Neither Low nor Wegis would reveal what they are seeking in damages, however Low said that the district has already offered $1 million. Kellar told The Californian that’s not accurate, but court documents submitted and signed by Kellar show that KHSD did offer $1 million to Carter May 17 “solely for the purpose of avoiding further costs of litigation.”
Wegis turned down the offer.
“That doesn't even get close to just the medical portion, let alone the loss of income, let alone what it’s worth to take someone's functioning brain from them,” Low said.
Damages for brain injury cases have gone for anywhere between $10 million and $50 million, Low said.