Town, three councilmen included in claim
By Ben Orcutt -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- The attorney who filed a pending $30 million defamation lawsuit against the town and three of its councilmen says that defense arguments that the case be dismissed should be rejected by the court.
The lawsuit was filed July 15 by David W. Silek, of the Manassas law firm of Ours & Silek, in Warren County Circuit Court on behalf of SolAVerde LLC, Donald F. Poe and Gregory A. Horton.
In addition to the town, defendants in the lawsuit are Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway and Councilmen Carson C. Lauder Jr. and Thomas H. Sayre.
Julia B. Judkins of the Fairfax law firm of Trichilo, Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins, who is representing the defendants through the town's membership in the Virginia Municipal League, argued in her Aug. 6, response there is no basis for Silek's claim and therefore it should be dismissed.
Judkins filed a memorandum of support of her arguments on Oct. 18, and Silek recently responded to those arguments.
Silek says in his Nov. 15 filing that the basis of the lawsuit is that his clients were called "crooks" and accused of offering "bribes."
"The most glaring fact, but not the sole fact, is that at least one of the three councilmen leaked a memorandum to the news media that accused plaintiffs of offering bribes to public officials in connection with a contract for the provision of a solar processing and production facility," Silek says.
In his initial filing, Silek says Horton and Poe are partners in SolAVerde. Horton is the owner of Arctic Air Refrigeration Inc. in Front Royal and Poe operates a local construction business, Silek says.
The plaintiffs were first defamed, Silek says, when a member of the council leaked confidential documents to The Northern Virginia Daily in April.
The documents included an April 8 memo from Town Attorney Thomas R. Robinett to the council. In the memo, Robinett refers to "Standard Energy/Solar/SolAVerde" offering 200 jobs and $1.2 million in incentives that were not in a bid for construction of a solar energy farm.
SolAVerde did not submit a bid on the solar project, Silek has said. Standard Energy LLC's proposal was the top-ranked bid by the town's consultant.
The Town Council eventually voted to reject all of the bids.
In addition to not knowing who leaked the documents to the Daily, Judkins says in her Aug. 6 response that both the town and the three councilmen have sovereign immunity under the law, and therefore cannot be sued.
However, Silek says in his Nov. 15 filing that just because the lawsuit does not name the councilman who leaked the documents to the newspaper, it does not mean that the defense's objection to the lawsuit should be sustained.
According to Silek's lawsuit, the plaintiffs also were defamed when Holloway and Lauder inquired of Robinett on March 30 if the "incentives" that then-Town Manager J. Michael
Graham mentioned to the council on March 29 constituted a bribe being offered. Graham, who was fired as town manager on Sept. 27, has denied that he was offered a bribe.
Holloway, Lauder and Sayre also defamed his clients when they voted publicly for a state police investigation of the allegation, Silek adds in his initial filing.
Defense arguments that the statements cannot be defamatory because they were "opinion" and made in conjunction with the councilmen's legislative duties fail, Silek says in his Nov. 15 filing.
"Words that accuse plaintiffs of committing a crime: 'crook' 'offering bribes' 'meeting in secret,' etc., are clearly defamatory," Silek says. "In our case, statements that plaintiffs offered bribes in connection with obtaining a lucrative contract are clearly meant to be statements of facts, not opinions, and are actionable."
Silek goes on to say that "This is a case where 3 council members unlawfully accused plaintiffs of committing crimes, then leaked a confidential document, all with the intention of smearing plaintiffs and causing them harm."
Silek also argues that neither legislative immunity nor sovereign immunity apply in this case.
"This lawsuit is not prosecuting simple debate on the merits of continuing with a solar energy versus coal fired energy program," Silek says.
"It seeks justice for the accusations of criminal behavior, when there was not a single fact to support that these 3 plaintiffs were engaged in any activity whatsoever, let alone criminal activity.
There is no privilege that protects the actions in this case and the [objection] should be overruled."
Sovereign immunity does not apply to the town, Silek says, because, "The statements and actions by the council members, and therefore the town of Front Royal were not made within their governmental functions."