Victims of Michael Kelly file civil lawsuit against former teacher, county school leaders

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Joel Rhine and James Lea discussing the announcement of a civil lawsuit against New Hanover Co. Schools and Michael Kelly (Andrew James/WWAY)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The victims of Michael Kelly are now suing the former teacher convicted in a sex crime scandal as well as the New Hanover County School system.

Kelly is in prison after being convicted on numerous charges. Kelly pleaded guilty to nearly 60 charges including indecent liberties with a child. Attorneys for the victims announced the lawsuit this afternoon.

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“These are some of our best and brightest and they were ruined. Not just by Mr. Kelly but by this administration,” said attorney Joel Rhine

The Rhine Law Firm along with the Lea Schultz Law Firm say it’s time to clean house in the school’s administration. The lawsuit has the potential to become a class action suit. That’s due to the fact that according to prosecutors, there were at least 19 known victims of Michael Kelly’s sexual abuse.

“It became about protecting the reputation of the school system or I guess the administrator involved or somebody else’s reputation,” said attorney James Lea. “It was not about protecting the children and it’s been that way for in my opinion a long time.”

The suit claims that since 1993, complaints were levied against Kelly. It goes into detail of his indecent libertieswith students on and off campus. Kelly was a teacher at both Laney High School as well as Isaac Bear Early College High School.

“Time after time after time this board, this administration had the ability to stop this any reasonable person in their actions would have stopped this,” said Rhine.

In fact, the victims allege that the school system failed to disclose and concealed Kelly’s sexual abuse of students. Superintendent Tim Markley and outgoing Deputy Superintendent Rick Holliday are named in the lawsuit. Victims say they warned administrators like Dr. Holliday verbally and in written complaints. Kelly revealed during his sentencing that in 2006, his first year at Isaac Bear, he had been cleared from an investigation that stemmed from an indecent exposure complaint.

“In light of allegations made against New Hanover County Schools during the recent sentencing of Kelly, the NHC Board of Education has launched an internal investigation into incidents that allegedly occurred in 2006,” said school board chair Lisa Estep on July 1.

The school system has informed WWAY that they cannot comment at this time until they have reviewed the lawsuit. The school system has responded however to the news of this civil investigation with the hiring of their own firm to internally investigate the administration.

“The Board felt that there was value in getting an objective, thorough look at our practices and procedures and an understanding of what happened in the past,” said Estep on July 10 after the board’s hiring of Brooks Pierce law firm.

“I know that they’re in reputation management and this is not a time for that,” said Lea at the Tuesday news conference.

The victims are asking for a jury trial. They are looking to seek funds from an insurance fund that the school system has for negligence claims. Attorneys say $3 million dollars is available for the school to set up a fund to help these victims with resources such as counseling and other mental treatment.

“It’s going to be up to them on how much a war they are going to wage on their victims,” said Rhine.