CHARLESTON – One of the attorneys who filed two Cabell County lawsuits that triggered a recent school swing set controversy says he never could have imagined the aftermath.
"I was absolutely shocked when I heard that Cabell County was considering pulling out the swing sets," said Dan Greear, a member of Kesner, Kesner & Bramble in Charleston. "That's not what we anticipated or wanted whatsoever.
"I think all of the talk is as crazy as everyone else does."
Greear, who also is running for Kanawha Circuit Judge this fall, said his firm and the Ripley law firm of Harris & Holmes filed the two Cabell County suits for siblings in December 2009. The primary one, Greear said, concerned a boy who broke his arm on a swing set at Spring Hill Elementary.
Greear said the area around the swing set was mulched, but the area was outlined with 4x4 boards. The boy landed on one of the boards when he broke his arm.
"Our main thing was, 'Take that big 4x4 board out of where the kids are landing,'" Greear said.
Cabell County school officials have said they have considered removing swings from elementary schools because of recent lawsuits and costs associated with meeting national standards for playground safety.
Greear said he doesn't recall the exact timeframe, but he said Cabell County Schools began settlement negotiations almost immediately.
"They realized they had problems," Greear said of the school system. "It was something they should have taken care of."
Greear, a Republican running against Judge Carrie Webster, said he isn't worried that the fact that he filed the swing set suits will affect his campaign. He said about 75 percent of his work still is on the defense side.
"It doesn't concern me for my run for judge because I have said all along -- in 2008 when I ran for attorney general and this year -- that my experience has been representing both plaintiffs and defendants," he said. "It's more defense work, but I absolutely believe that it is a benefit going into a judicial position seeing both sides of it.
"A judge is supposed to be looking and analyzing both sides of a case. People should want a judge who takes the law as it is, applies it and is fair to both sides. Frankly, I think having this record of representing both sides only helps.
"If somebody wants a judge who can only see things from one side of a case, then I'm not their guy."
Last week, Cabell County school officials were asked to set aside plans to remove swing sets after meeting with state officials.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, met on a conference call with Cabell County Schools Superintendent William Smith and Chuck Jones of the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, and asked that any plans to remove or rope off the swing sets be set aside for the remainder of the school year.
Jenkins said he intended to seek some type of liability reform during the 2011 legislative session that begins in January.
Jedd Flowers, the school system's director of communications, said the swings will stay in use for now.
Before that, Cabell County Schools Superintendent William A. Smith told Board of Education members that swing sets could still be removed from elementary school playgrounds in the county.
After his office had announced that the school system was reversing an earlier decision to remove swing sets because state education policy requires the playground equipment at all elementary schools, Smith said he consulted with the attorneys representing the state Department of Education, who indicated that policy wording was not intended to mean that swing sets are required on all school playgrounds.
Smith said the intent in Section 205 of the West Virginia Board of Education Policy was not to mean that every school had to have swings and that removing the swings is still an option on the table until they have come to a conclusion about what to do.