Since April 2011, numerous stories about Sean Lanigan appeared in The Post and elsewhere describing his ongoing ordeal after being acquitted of sexual abuse charges. And not one of them would ever have been written if the Fairfax County school board had simply done in 2010 what it finally did last week.
After Lanigan was found not guilty in May 2010, all he wanted was to get his life back, get his old job back, and get his $107,000 in legal fees back. He probably would’ve settled for one out of three. He did not want any more publicity. But the school district simply was not going to let him return to Centre Ridge Elementary School, the scene of his non-crime, and reassigning him to South Lakes High School disrupted his family’s child care situation and forced his wife to take a different job. He remains at South Lakes.
In July 2010, he requested reimbursement of the $107,000 in legal fees, as state law allows. But the school board stalled and delayed. Out of frustration, Lanigan agreed to tell his story to The Post, which appeared in April 2011. When the school board still wouldn’t pay, he filed a lawsuit in August 2011, and the school board then hired outside lawyers from the firm of Hunton and Williams to litigate the case at taxpayer expense. Ten months of intense pretrial legal filings and settlement negotiations ensued.
The county, and taxpayers, got some help when Lanigan received a $35,000 payout from the teachers’ union. The board then paid the remaining $72,000 in June 2012. Did the county’s own legal fees equal or exceed the $35,000 shaved off of its payment to Lanigan? We will continue to pursue that answer.
Meanwhile, Lanigan did not recover $18,000 in costs, plus his legal fees in the civil case which were almost certainly more than $10,000, plus lost income from time missed coaching soccer in 2010, accounting for more than $30,000. That’s about $60,000 gone, and Centre Ridge lost one of its more popular teachers. Fairfax County earned a lot of attention that it would never have gotten if it had simply paid Lanigan’s fees in 2010.
Did any of this have to happen? The Fairfax school board, prosecutor and police aren’t saying. Sean Lanigan would say no.