Wednesday , August 15, 2012 - 2:25 PM
ST. GEORGE — Abuse charges in a lawsuit against a Utah company that ran a network of domestic and international schools for troubled teens will be heard in St. George, a judge has ruled.
Fifth District Judge James Shumate ruled Tuesday the case should remain in southern Utah because most of the companies named as defendants — and the people operating them — call Washington County home.
An attorney representing more than 350 former students and family members had argued the case should be moved to Salt Lake City to avoid prejudice and travel costs for his clients. The students are from more than three dozen states, England and Canada and attended the residential school programs between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.
The suit claims the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, based in St. George, subjected the students to systematic abuse. The students claim they were denied food and medical care, lived in filth and suffered extreme emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Named as defendants are World Wide and its three principals, Robert B. Lichfield of Toquerville, and Brent M. Facer and Ken Kay, both of St. George.
Also named are a network of about 50 affiliated businesses and individuals, which the lawsuit claims were controlled by the organization’s principals through either family relationships or written management agreements.
The lawsuit renews claims in a 2006 lawsuit filed in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court that was dismissed last year for jurisdictional reasons.
Dallas-based attorney Windle Turley, who represents the families, argued Tuesday for moving the case back to Salt Lake City, saying it would be easier for plaintiffs to travel to the Salt Lake area than to St. George, the Spectrum of St. George reported. He also said a Washington Country trial would be prejudicial in favor of the defense.
A Salt Lake City judge sent the case to Washington County in June in response to a defense motion.
Attorney Stewart Harman, who represents the defendants, argued it should remain in Washington County because that’s where "the documents of this alleged conspiracy would be located," The Spectrum reported.
Shumate sought to assure Turley that St. George has sufficient resources to handle the complex case. The judge is allowing different parties to participate in various court hearings via telephone.
He scheduled an Oct. 2 status conference to ensure the case is progressing.
The students’ attorneys say World Wide has operated more than 20 schools in seven states and in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Samoa and the Czech Republic. They allege in court records that many of the schools were open for only short periods because of their failure to comply with licensing and regulatory laws, because of abuse allegations and because the organization’s "principals drained excessive funds off the top."
In June 2011, a student who claims he attended Casa by the Sea filed a separate federal lawsuit against World Wide and its owners.
Carl Brown Austin, 25, of Spokane, Wash., says he spent nearly two years in the Ensenada, Mexico, school and was a "virtual prisoner" in programs that meted out primitive punishment for hours on end.
When Austin’s lawsuit was filed, Facer told The Associated Press he had served on World Wide’s board but that the organization had shut down because there was no longer a need for its programs. Asked why former students might bring such accusations, Facer said children brought to such schools have a history of misrepresenting the truth.
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