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Defamation lawsuit ends in win for Town Council defendants

By Joe Beck

A defamation lawsuit against one current and two former members of the Front Royal
Town Council ended its long run in Warren County Circuit on Monday when a judge rejected an effort by the plaintiffs to revive it after an earlier defeat.

Attorneys from both sides said Judge Alfred Swersky of Alexandria upheld a decision from February in which he concluded that current council member Thomas H. Sayre and former members Carson Lauder and Chris W. Holloway had made no defamatory statements in a debate about the building of a solar farm at the former Avtex site.

The suit was filed by Donald F. Poe, Gregory A. Horton and their company,
SolAVerde. They contended that the defendants committed defamation in calling for a criminal investigation into the firm's actions involving the solar farm proposal.

The plaintiffs also argued they were defamed when the defendants asked former town attorney Thomas R. Robinett if some of the incentives for building the solar farm constituted a bribe to former town manager Michael J. Graham.

Town Attorney Douglas W. Napier insisted that Sayre, Holloway and Lauder were performing their normal job duties as legislators in the comments they made.

Swersky sided with Napier in throwing out the lawsuit in early February. His ruling from the bench Monday came in response to a request by attorney David W. Silek to reconsider the decision. Silek argued that a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision gave reason to overturn the February ruling, but Swersky decided otherwise.

"The judge said the Supreme Court ruling didn't change anything," Napier said. "Therefore, he stood by his ruling."

Silek said he has not decided whether to appeal Swersky's ruling to the Supreme Court, but he still believes the defendants made defamatory statements.

"It's ridiculous that sitting councilmen can attack citizens of our community and not be subject to punishment for it," Silek said.

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


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