A Virginia school district has agreed to pay a portion of the legal fees of a teacher who was acquitted of charges he molested a pre-teen student. The Fairfax County School Board has settled with Sean Lanigan, and will pay nearly $73,000 towards his legal expenses.
Lanigan, who was a teacher and coach at several district schools, was accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl during school hours in front of three other students. The accusation resulted in two felony charges that were later deemed unfounded by the Fairfax County Circuit Court. Before the ordeal was over, however, Lanigan had spent $125,000 defending himself against the charges.
Virginia state law contains provisions for government employees to recover legal fees from their employers if they are acquitted of a crime. Some of Lanigan’s costs were not eligible for reimbursement, but he initially asked for the district to pay him almost $108,000. Eventually, the school board offered him $60,000. Lanigan refused the initial settlement and sued the school board for the full amount of his legal expenses.
Faced with the prospect of going to court, the board agreed to the current settlement. A school board spokesperson explained that the amount the board offered was intended to make up the difference between the amount Lanigan’s union insurance policy paid towards his bills and the amount he paid to defend himself. Lanigan was forced to cover the cost of suing the school board from his own pocket.
In an interview, Lanigan expressed his disappointment with the settlement. Although he admitted that the school board had no legal obligation to cover the entire cost of his defense, he pointed to the long delay between his request for reimbursement and the final agreement and said that if the board “…wanted to truly back their teacher, they would take care of me.”
The spokesperson for the school board defended the delay. John Torre said that the final settlement was virtually the same as the one the board offered in the fall of 2011, a claim that Lanigan’s attorney, William Reichhardt,denied.