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Posted March 28, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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SVTA suit is resolved

By James Heffernan -- jheffernan@nvdaily.com

A civil suit brought by a former public relations director with the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association will not go to trial after all.

The attorney for the plaintiff, L. Meriwether German, said Friday the two sides have reached a settlement out of court.

Terms of the agreement are private and will not be disclosed, according to German's attorney, W. Reilly Marchant, of Richmond. However, Marchant said the deal does not involve German being reinstated.

German claimed he was fired in August 2006 for speaking out against the temporary relocation of the Interstate 81 Welcome Center at Clear Brook to downtown Winchester. Among his complaints, voiced in a series of e-mails to state and local officials, were that the welcome center was hard to find, lacked adequate parking, had no restrooms and was too far away from the highway.

The suit named Virginia Tourism Corp. President Alisa Bailey, Luray Caverns marketing director John Shaffer and SVTA President Steve Fox as defendants. Judith Cariker, former interim director of the SVTA, was later added to the list.

The claim alleged that German's efforts to bring the rest-area issue to light "brought scrutiny and embarrassment" upon Bailey and her office, and that she, in turn, leaned on Shaffer, a close friend and past president of the SVTA, and Fox, Shaffer's subordinate at Luray Caverns, to fire him.

Throughout the proceedings, attorneys Robert Dybing, of Richmond, who represented Bailey, and Thomas G. Bell, of Staunton, who represented Shaffer and Fox, denied that there was ever a conspiracy on the part of their clients to fire German.

Shenandoah County Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp earlier this month denied a motion for summary judgment in the case. It was scheduled to go to trial on Monday.

German originally filed the lawsuit in federal court, claiming violation of his right to free speech.

In April 2007, a federal district judge in Harrisonburg ruled that German's e-mails were not entitled to such protection since they were sent pursuant to his duties as director of public relations and membership for the SVTA, and not in his capacity as a private citizen. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision last year.

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