Judge William Alexander II ruled on November 22, 2010, that the lawsuit against Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and former Executive Vice President James A. Hyatt will go forward, and he set September 2011 for the trial date. Steger and Hyatt are being sued for $10 million by the parents of Julia Pryde and Erin Peterson, two of the students killed on the April 16, 2007 massacre. The other families of the dead and wounded settled with the state, in part to assure that the wounded students’ medical bills would be paid.
In an earlier challenge to the suit, Judge Alexander ruled there is enough evidence of gross negligence to warrant a jury trial. His latest decision reaffirms that decision and denies the defense argument that Steger and Hyatt are protected by sovereign immunity—a doctrine rooted in monarchical traditions that states the state and its institutions are free from lawsuits or grievances. In rendering his decision, Judge Alexander said, “I don’t see President Steger as helping to run the government.”
Robert Hall, the attorney for the Pryde and Peterson families, argued that only 25 percent of Steger’s $600,000 annual compensation comes from state funds. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Hall asserted that because Steger is allowed to serve on the governing boards of companies doing business with the school and its affiliates (conflict of interest?), his job is inconsistent with being a government official.