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Former SAAA executive breathes new life into defamation suit

By Joe Beck

A comatose lawsuit filed by a former executive of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging was revived Friday when her lawyer filed new documents in Warren County Circuit Court.

The suit by Ann T. McIntyre against SAAA and several members of its leadership faced dismissal after a judge cast aside the initial complaint in a November ruling from the bench. McIntyre and her attorney, Monique Miles of Reston, were given until Nov. 30 to file an amended complaint that would allow the case to continue.

McIntyre is seeking $2.35 million, plus attorney's fees, from the cash-strapped agency for what she argues were defamatory statements SAAA officials made about her that appeared in The Northern Virginia Daily and The Winchester Star.

The articles appeared in connection with personnel and financial turmoil that rocked the agency in late summer and the fall of 2011 as staff members and state officials uncovered evidence of what they suspected were fraudulent and negligent bookkeeping practices at the agency.

McIntyre has insisted that violations of credit card policies that led to her firing were unrelated to other accusations of malfeasance made against other officials at the agency. She contends agency officials' comments to reporters wrongly linked her acts to those of other officials accused of more serious forms of misconduct

The SAAA board also fired executive director Helen Cockrell and financial director Jim Shaffer around the same as McIntyre. McIntyre was the agency's director of development and community relations.

Miles said Wednesday the main difference between the amended complaint and the one dismissed by Judge Gaylord Finch involves specific quotes attributed to agency officials from the newspaper articles.

Miles said the defunct complaint did not attribute comments appearing in the newspaper articles to specific SAAA officials, except in perhaps one or two instances.

The amended complaint carries direct quotations and attributes them directly to officials such as SAAA board chairman John E. Hudson and agency attorney Benjamin Butler, she said.

"There won't be any confusion as to what the defendants said," Miles said, "because the statements are there in the record quoting exactly what they were saying."

SAAA's attorney, Rosalie Pemberton Fessier of Staunton, could not reached for comment.

Fessier must now file a reply to the amended complaint. The new documents will then be considered by a judge as the dispute enters a new round of litigation.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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