Vines’ suit against prosecutor, sheriff’s deputy set for Feb. 6 trial

Published 1:55 pm Friday, August 4, 2023

U.S. District Judge Jamar Walker has set a Feb. 6 trial date for former Isle of Wight County School Board member Michael Vines’ lawsuit against a prosecutor and sheriff’s deputy.

Vines, who lost his seat on the board to challenger Jason Maresh in November’s elections, filed a complaint on March 28 against Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Deputy Kristopher Coughlin and Assistant Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Lily Wilder, accusing the two of “malicious abuse of process” for their roles in two unsuccessful attempts to recall him from office ahead of the election.

More than 200 Windsor-area residents signed two separate recall petitions in 2022 – one in March and the other in April – each accusing Vines of having made “wildly inappropriate” remarks at meetings and of “malfeasance” for allegedly failing to properly fill out the statement of economic interests board members must file.

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Isle of Wight County Circuit Court had named the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office as a special prosecutor for the March petition after Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips recused her office. The Suffolk office then tasked Wilder with arguing in favor of the recall.

Circuit Court Judge Carl Eason, while characterizing some of Vines’ remarks as having “bordered on rude,” dismissed the first petition on March 29 and the second on June 22.

The day before Eason’s dismissal of the first petition, Wilder had emailed Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs seeking Vines’ economic interests statement for what Wilder described as a “criminal investigation for felony forgery of a public record.” When Briggs replied that state law explicitly requires school divisions to redact a board member’s signature and home address when releasing copies of the document, Wilder wrote she was “running against the clock” and proposed issuing a search warrant to obtain the unredacted version.

That warrant wasn’t served until March 30 – one day after Eason’s dismissal of the first petition and 16 days before Wilder was reappointed to prosecute the second. According to Vines’ lawsuit, two plainclothes deputies operating under the direction of Coughlin entered Isle of Wight County Schools’ central office on March 30, approximately five minutes before its scheduled 4:30 p.m. closing, and instructed employees to remain in place while they searched for Vines’ economic interests form.

The warrant had accused Vines of “stating that he does not make over $5,000 at his place of employment” by virtue of having left the employment status and salary blank on his Dec. 13, 2021, economic interests form, but having stated at a Feb. 8, 2022, meeting he was “an IT manager” who makes “over $100,000 a year.” The two dismissed petitions had made the same accusation.

Vines’ lawsuit accuses Wilder and Coughlin of participating in a “conspiracy” under “color of law” by allegedly “utilizing the ruse” of a criminal investigation to “obtain an advantage in a civil proceeding.” Vines’ attorney, Steven Oser, contends no criminal charges have arisen from Wilder’s “felony forgery” investigation.

Wilder and Coughlin, both of whom have obtained outside legal counsel, each filed motions to dismiss Vines’ lawsuit in May on grounds of “failure to state a claim.”

Coughlin is represented by the Richmond firm Thompson McMullan. Wilder is represented by The Beale Law Firm of North Chesterfield.

Wilder’s court filings assert she, as the appointed special prosecutor, had a “statutory duty” to prosecute “the petition, as well as apparent crimes.” Wilder further asserts “immunity” on grounds that she was acting in her role as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney. Coughlin’s filings also assert “qualified immunity,” which shields law enforcement officers from most federal lawsuits. He further asserts “probable cause supported” the search warrant.

Walker, despite setting a trial date, has yet to rule on either dismissal motion, according to Oser.