A lawsuit to keep the imploding Sweet Briar College open may have been dealt a massive blow, days before a judge is set to hear the case.
Last month, Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, arguing that the board of the all-women’s college hadn’t done enough to keep it open.
However, on Thursday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed an amicus brief stating that Bowyer and her office do not have the standing to bring a lawsuit in the name of the Commonwealth, local newspaper The News & Advance reports.
“The Amherst County Attorney should not be allowed to parlay the very limited authority given to her … into authority to speak for the Commonwealth and the public with respect to charitable trusts or assets,” Herring writes in the brief.
This could be a death blow for the varied efforts to keep Sweet Briar open after the school’s board of directors announced its abrupt closure early last month.
“If the judge determines that Bowyer does not have standing, the case would be dismissed without consideration of its merits,” according to The Washington Post.
Herring and Bowyer reportedly met a few weeks ago to discuss the Sweet Briar case, but did not come to an agreement on how to handle the situation.
“In the meeting with the county attorney, we asked to coordinate efforts but that did not happen,” Herring’s director of communications Michael Kelly told The News & Advance.
The Virginia attorney general does not take a position on whether Sweet Briar should remain open, according to Kelly.
The brief does argue, though, that the Sweet Briar board of directors should be able to decide if the college closes.
“The Attorney General sympathizes with all individuals who are connected to Sweet Briar — students, alumnae, faculty, administrators and staff, as well as the community of Amherst — during this difficult time,” Herring writes. “However, the Attorney General recognises that the decision regarding whether Sweet Briar, a private school, remains open rests with the Sweet Briar Board of Directors.”
Legal experts who spoke to The News & Advance seem to agree that Herring has a solid standing to bring this brief, even if his efforts may hinder the fight to keep Sweet Briar open.
“His legal foundation is fairly strong, but it’s not a matter of what he can do, but what he should do,” Liberty University law professor Phillip Kline told the newspaper.
A Sweet Briar spokesperson sent Business Insider the following statement:
We have tremendous respect for the Attorney General and understand his desire to ensure the laws of the Commonwealth are upheld and that the public’s interest is properly protected. The Attorney General’s filing is consistent with Virginia law as expressed by the General Assembly and the Virginia Supreme Court.
We have reached out to Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer for comment and will update with any statement we receive.
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