Former Isle of Wight School Board member’s conspiracy lawsuit dismissed

Published 5:59 pm Friday, June 28, 2024

A federal judge has dismissed ex-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 2022’s elections, filed the suit last year accusing Isle of Wight County sheriff’s deputy Kristopher Coughlin and Assistant Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Lily Wilder of “malicious abuse of process” for their roles in two unsuccessful attempts to recall him from office ahead of the election. Specifically, Vines had accused the two 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.”

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

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Wilder, whom Isle of Wight County’s Circuit Court named as a special prosecutor to argue in favor of the petition, had worked with Coughlin to secure a search warrant for Vines’ Dec. 13, 2021, statement of economic interests, which was served on Isle of Wight County Schools on March 30, 2022 – one day after the first petition’s dismissal and 16 days prior to Wilder’s reappointment as special prosecutor for the second. Wilder, in an email to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, had sought Vines’ statement for what Wilder described as a “criminal investigation for felony forgery of a public record“ and proposed issuing a search warrant for an unredacted version of the document after making reference to “running against the clock” when Briggs told her that state law explicitly requires school divisions redact a board member’s signature and home address when releasing copies.

U.S. District Court Judge Jamar Walker, in his order dismissing Vines’ case, said Vines “appears to allege, without explicitly stating so, that an unlawful search occurred,” a claim Walker contends “fails because the plaintiff did not have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy” due to his economic interests form explicitly stating that it is “available to the public.”

Walker also struck down Vines’ claim that he lost the 2022 election because Wilder was “unconcerned with the effects of a false criminal investigation,” finding Vines was “not entitled to a school board position.”

“It is well settled that public officials do not hold property or any cognizable Fourteenth Amendment rights in their positions,” Walker wrote.

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

Though Vines to date has not been charged, Walker’s order asserts “there was a legitimate basis to initiate a criminal investigation.”

Coughlin, Wilder’s office, Vines or his attorney, Steven Oser, did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ request for comments.