Fairfax County schoolteacher and soccer coach Sean Lanigan, acquitted last year of molesting a sixth-grade student at Centre Ridge Elementary School, has tried for more than a year to have his legal fees of more than $100,000 reimbursed. But the Fairfax County School Board declined, offering only $60,000 and coupling it with the condition that Lanigan not sue any school officials as a result of his wrongful arrest.
Lanigan rejected the partial offer, the school board wouldn’t budge, and now Lanigan has sued the board for the full $107,838, with no strings attached.
The suit was filed Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court. Lanigan and his attorney, William B. Reichhardt, declined further comment Tuesday. Fairfax school officials also did not want to discuss the suit Tuesday.
When last we left Lanigan, after a lengthy story in May detailing his ordeal, he had been moved out of Centre Ridge, gone on to teach physical education part-time last year at South Lakes High School, then told he had been de-staffed at South Lakes and had to reapply for a job elsewhere in the county. Lanigan has now been reinstated at South Lakes, Reichhardt said Tuesday, and will be a full-time P.E. teacher there this year.
Lanigan was arrested in January 2010 on the word of two sixth-grade girls at Centre Ridge, who told authorities that Lanigan had picked up one girl, carried her into an equipment room and lain down on top of her. In May 2010, after hearing from the girls as well as Lanigan, who denied the allegations, and school staff members who said the equipment room didn’t have any place to lie down, a Fairfax jury acquitted Lanigan in about 45 minutes.
Fairfax school policy allows the school board to “allow consideration for reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in defending an educational employee charged with a crime arising out of the regular course of employment so long as the charges are ultimately dismissed.”
In July 2010, Lanigan submitted a request for reimbursement of $107,838. The Post reported a total of $125,000 in fees, but that included legal costs that are not subject to reimbursement.
The lawsuit alleges that the school board responded in March with an offer of $60,000 and no explanation of how that number was determined. As a precondition of that payment, the lawsuit states, the board required Lanigan to sign a waiver renouncing any future claims against any school officials, though such a stipulation is not part of the school board’s reimbursement policy.
Reichhardt’s lawsuit states that the school board has not claimed that the attorneys’ fees were unreasonable and that once the board determined it would award fees, its own policy “requires that all reasonable attorneys’ fees be reimbursed.”
The school board has repaid Lanigan for the salary he lost while he was suspended after his January 2010 arrest. But Lanigan told The Post earlier this year that his arrest, incarceration, removal from Centre Ridge and trial imposed needless suffering based on an incomplete investigation of the girls’ allegations. He has not filed any legal action based on that aspect of the case.
Lanigan was reinstated as boys’ soccer coach at Herndon High School, led the team to the region’s top ranking and was All-Met Coach of the Year. He also resumed coaching various youth soccer teams in Fairfax County.