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Judge scraps suit against town, council members

By Joe Beck

A judge tossed out a lawsuit Friday by the partners in a solar energy company against the town of Front Royal and three town council members.

Town attorney Douglas Napier said the decision issued from the bench in Warren County Circuit Court by retired Judge Alfred Swersky of Alexandria amounted to a complete and final victory for the defendants, barring a successful appeal by the plaintiffs to the Virginia Supreme Court.

"It's been pending for quite a while, and it's always nice to get a lawsuit behind you," Napier said Monday.

The suit filed by Donald F. Poe, Gregory A. Horton and their company, SolAVerde, LLC accused council member Thomas H. Sayre and former council members Carson Lauder and Chris W. Holloway of making defamatory statements about them and SolAVerde as the town debated building a solar farm at the former Avtex site.

The complaint stated that Holloway, Lauder and Sayre voted for a criminal investigation of Poe, Horton and SolAVerde.

The vote was part of "a continued pattern of defamatory innuendo designed to harm the plaintiffs without presenting any proof of wrongdoing," the complaint stated.

The complaint also accused Holloway and Lauder of defaming the defendants by asking former town attorney Thomas R. Robinett on March 30, 2010 if some of the project's incentives amounted to a bribe offered to former town manager Michael J. Graham.

The suit states that Graham denied any bribe offer was involved in the project.

Napier said the comments made by the three council members about SolAVerde were part of their "job duties."

"They were really just trying to figure out what was going on, which is what they were supposed to do as part of their legislative function," Napier said.

David W. Silek, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the comments by the defendants cost SolAVerde millions of dollars in contracts. The suit sought $40 million in damages.

Silek said his clients remain "ready to do business with the town and would like to do business with the town," although he disagreed "vehemently" with the judge's ruling.

"I believe it gives an elected person, as long as he's sitting on a public body, the right to impugn someone's character and make up false, libelous and slanderous things about a person and hide behind the skirt of the town," Silek said.

Silek said his clients have made no decision so far about whether to appeal the decision.

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


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