SE Texas Record

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Suit against Kirbyville ISD over principal suicide up on appeal, plaintiffs’ attorney calls move a delay tactic

By David Yates | Jul 10, 2019


BEAUMONT – More than two years ago, The Ferguson Law Firm obtained a temporary restraining order to preserve evidence surrounding the death of Dennis Reeves, the Kirbyville High School principal.

On Aug. 31, 2017, the Ninth Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal brought by the Kirbyville CISD at the request of the Reeves family, court records show.

The family argued the appeal, which the district initiated after its plea to the jurisdiction was denied, was moot because they had non-suited all their claims in the trial court.

Now, the current lawsuit, which was filed by the Reeves family in February, is back up on appeal, as Kirbyville CISD wants the case out of Jefferson County.

Reeves, who was found dead in his pickup shortly after being forced to resign from his job, died on May 23, 2017.

Reeves’ supervisor had confronted him about allegations that he had sexually harassed a subordinate employee and was offered the opportunity to resign in lieu of an investigation, according to court records.

OnJuly 2, Kirbyville CISD filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Ninth Court of Appeals, questioning whether the trial court abused its discretion by failing to transfer the case to Jasper County – the venue where the district is located.

The writ also questions whether the trial court had the discretion to continue the district’s plea to the jurisdiction and order discovery not limited to any particular jurisdictional fact issues.

Paul “Chip” Ferguson, who is representing the plaintiffs, says the appeal came after the Reeves’ family had secured favorable court rulings allowing the case to proceed in Jefferson County, and granting the family the right to discovery from Kirbyville.

“Kirbyville once again employs delay tactics to deny the family of Dennis Reeves the one thing they ask for – the truth,” Ferguson said. “This is not the first time KCISD has used the appeal process as a vehicle of delay – they have done it before.” 

Ferguson says Reeves’ widow, children and parents are still waiting – more than two years after the fact – for the opportunity to have the powers-that-be in Kirbyville to “look us in the eye and tell us, under oath, what happened.” 

“To look us in the eye and explain why the so-called resignation letter has a forged signature. To look us in the eye and explain how a man of Tommy Wallis’ small character could be placed in a position of trust,” Ferguson said.

“Kirbyville does not want to answer for the obvious reason – the truth would hurt. Hurt as it may, my clients are entitled to those answers. We continue to press forward.”

Wallis, the former superintendent of Kirbyville CISD, resigned earlier this year.

The district, on the other hand, is standing behind the writ, says John Janssen, a Sara Leon & Associates attorney representing Kirbyville CISD.

“As is urged in the Petition, the lawsuit was filed in the wrong county per state law protecting political subdivisions in counties with relatively small populations,” Janssen said. “The lawsuit also is without merit. In the interest of protecting taxpayer resources, such lawsuit should be dismissed at the earliest possible juncture.”

Judge Justin Sanderson, 60th District Court, is the trial court presiding over the case.

Jefferson County case No. B-203433

Appeals case No. 09-19-00209-CV

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