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SolAVerde partners revive lawsuit against town, council members

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

A defunct defamation suit by the partners in a solar energy company against the town of Front Royal and three town council members was resurrected last week in Warren County Circuit Court.

The suit by Donald F. Poe, Gregory A, Horton and their company, SolAVerde, LLC against the town and council members Thomas H. Sayre, Carson Lauder and Chris W. Holloway appears little different from the one they gave up on in December after a judge ruled against them earlier in the year.

The amount of money the plaintiffs are seeking -- $40 million -- remains the same as it was in the previous suit.

The suit accuses the defendants of making defamatory statements in the course of a months-long discussion about a proposal to build a solar farm at the former Avtex site as a way of generating more electrical power, creating jobs and increasing tax revenue.

The suit contends that Holloway and Lauder defamed the plaintiffs when they asked former town attorney Thomas R. Robinett on March 30, 2010 if incentives linked to the project constituted a bribe being offered to former town manager Michael J. Graham.

Graham denied ever being offered a bribe, according to the lawsuit's complaint.

The suit also cites council votes by Holloway, Lauder and Sayre for a criminal investigation of Poe, Horton and SolaAVerde as part of a "continued pattern of defamatory innuendo designed to harm the plaintiffs without presenting any proof of wrongdoing."

Town Attorney Douglas Napier said he had not seen the complaint and declined to comment. Sayre also refused to comment for the record. Julia Judkins, a Fairfax attorney who is representing the defendants in the lawsuit, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The defendants prevailed in the opening round of the suit in 2011 when retired Judge Paul M. Peatross of Albermarle County ruled that none of the three council members made defamatory statements about SolAVerde, Poe or Horton.

Attorney David W. Silek, who represents SolAVerde LLC, Poe and Horton, filed a motion for non-suit in December, meaning the plaintiffs decided not to continue the suit but reserved the right to revive it at another time.

Silek said in December that he had found two new witnesses who would strengthen the case he was trying to make against the defendants. He said those witnesses would probably be giving depositions in late winter or early spring.

Silek did not return a phone call seeking a comment.

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