Judge Again Rejects Ohio County BOE Request for Dismissal
WHEELING — For a second time, Ohio County Circuit Judge Jason Cuomo has denied the Ohio County Board of Education’s request that it be removed from a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, brought forth by a former student, accuses a former teacher of sexually and mentally abusing the student with whom she had four children, and the board of negligent hiring and supervisory practices during the relationship.
An order issued by Cuomo on July 1 allows the case to proceed.
Cuomo first denied the board of education’s request for dismissal in an order dated June 3. It involves a civil suit filed in April by Christopher Birch, now 28, who alleges school officials and the board of education were aware of reports of his sexual relationship with his teacher and track coach Elizabeth Harbert. The relationship was said to have begun while he was a 13-year-old eighth grade student at Bridge Street Middle School in 2004.
The civil suit initially named Harbert as a defendant, as well both the Ohio County Board of Education and retired WPHS Principal Christine Carder. The June 3 order dropped ten of the 11 charges in the suit — including all against Harbert and Carder — based on statute of limitations.
The one request for dismissal denied by Cuomo was one against the board of education for “negligent retention, hiring and supervision” of an employee.
The court previously determined that evidence presented by Birch’s attorneys, Teresa Toriseva and Shari McPhail, of Wheeling, supported having the matter heard in court. The board’s attorneys, Susan Deniker and Jeffrey Cropp, next requested Cuomo revisit his decision to allow the civil lawsuit to proceed.
Cuomo stated in his order this week that nothing presented by the board of education’s counsel since the June 1 order changed his mind.
“Defendant (Ohio County Board of Education) has not provided the court with sufficient facts or argument for the court to find that ‘justice requires’ this court to reconsider its June 3, 2019 order and to dismiss … complaint against it (the board of education),” the order states.
Carder is presently a member of the board of education. No other board members, however, held positions of authority with the school district during the time Birch was in high school and his relationship with Harbert began.
The couple conceived the first of their four children while Birch was still a minor and a student at Wheeling Park High School. Their relationship continued into 2018.