Adams coaching case moves to federal court

Mike Still • Aug 19, 2019 at 9:00 PM

NORTON — The legal fight between former John I. Burton High School football coach James Adams and the Norton School Board moved to federal court on Monday.

Staffers at the U.S. District Court’s Western District clerk’s office in Abingdon confirmed on Monday that the case involving Adams’ request for a temporary injunction to start coaching football again was removed to federal court that afternoon. No hearing date or judge had been set by close of business Monday for the new hearing.

The case was originally set for hearing Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in Lee County Circuit Court before Judge Tammy McElyea.

Norton School Board spokesperson Becke Elkins said that the move had been requested by Roanoke attorney Jennifer Royer. While the board had been represented in the case by Staunton attorney G. Rodney Young, Elkins said that Virginia Association of Counties Group Self-Insurance Risk Pool – the school system’s insurance company – took over the board’s legal representation and placed Royer on the case.

Steven Minor, Adams’ lawyer, said that, while the case was originally filed in the state 30th Judicial District Circuit Court, it was subject to removal to federal court if the defendant chose to request it.

Royer could not be reached for comment on Monday.

While Adams’ filing was described as a temporary injunction in the Circuit Court filing, Minor said the change to federal jurisdiction changes its description to a preliminary injunction. The change does not alter what Adams is requesting in the original filing Aug. 1 by Adams’ lawyers, Minor and Richard Kennedy.

Adams had asked that the school board be blocked from continuing Adams’ suspension upon posting of a $500 injunction bond on Adams’ behalf.

Adams’ status as a school system employee has been in question publicly since July 10, when the board voted to keep Adams as the football coach at John I. Burton High School and to move him from his teaching post at Burton to an in-school suspension teacher at Norton Elementary and Middle School.

Adams has been under paid suspension since June 24. He was notified by letter from Superintendent Gina Wohlford of such and that he was not to be on school property or be in contact with current students.

The board in June also hired the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police for investigative services. One of the students who accused him of sexual harassment at the July 10 meeting later confirmed that she had been interviewed by someone from VACP.

The Norton Police Department in July also referred another complaint of inappropriate conduct by Adams to the Virginia State Police for investigation.

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