Second suit filed in fight to keep Sweet Briar College open

Daisy is buried on a hilltop on the sprawling campus. Photo: Norm Shafer Daisy is buried on a hilltop on the sprawling campus. Photo: Norm Shafer

As both sides in a legal battle over the announced closure of Sweet Briar College weigh their options after a judge put a 60-day hold on efforts to shutter the school, another lawsuit looms. Filed April 17, it comes from students who say they are victims of a breach of contract who may incur tens of thousands of dollars in additional expenses to get a degree.

“It’s so much worse for juniors because we’re so far down the academic path,” says Alexia Albrecht Richards, who isn’t party to the suit but said finishing her degree anywhere but Sweet Briar will consume an additional year even though she says she already earned sufficient credits to graduate.

The lawsuit accuses President James F. Jones Jr. of reckless spending, hasty decision-making and bad faith as evidenced by his alleged refusal to accept no-cost debt restructuring assistance from an expert.

The filing attorney, Winchester-based Elliott Schuchardt, asserts that Jones could face personal liability for abrogating his fiduciary duty to the institution.

College spokesperson Christy Jackson fires back that the suit is “factually inaccurate and legally de-
fective.” But Charlottesville-based legal analyst David Heilberg isn’t so sure.

“It’s well-pled,” says Heilberg, predicting that the case won’t be quickly dismissed.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in the first suit—brought by Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer and supported by alumnae activists—have said they’ll appeal a judge’s ruling last week that granted a temporary hold on efforts to close Sweet Briar. They had sought a permanent injunction against closure, as well as the ouster of the board.

“While this 60-day injunction is limited in scope and time, it is a very important first step,” said Sarah Clement, a 1975 Sweet Briar graduate who holds a JD from UVA’s School of Law. She said Bowyer is in the process of filing the appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court, a move that could happen as early as this week. In the meantime, claiming over $10 million in college-saving pledges to the group Saving Sweet Briar, she urged current students to hold off on making commitments to other schools.