CHARLES TOWN – A defamation suit filed last year by a fired Harpers Ferry official against the former mayor and treasurer has been dismissed by a Jefferson County Circuit Court.
[cleeng_content id="474660971" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The suit, filed by former clerk Brenda Smith, concerned allegations that she had failed to collect up to $150,000 in water bills months in arrears – the basis for her firing in April 2011, following a hearing before the Town Council.
Smith filed a defamation lawsuit against former Mayor Jim Addy and former Treasurer Shauna Johnstone in May 2012, pointing out that an insurance claim filed by Johnstone had indicated that the uncollected $150,000 could have been lost due to ‘misappropriation of funds,’ a claim which she denies.
Sanders’ ruling granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Addy and Johnstone, saying the facts of the case were not in dispute and that the only remaining judgements to be made were on matters of law.
On matters of law, Sanders ruled in favor of Johnstone and Addy on every point. He ruled that they did not make any defamatory statements, that all the statements they made were made privately to their insurer and were privileged, that they did not act negligently, had acted in good faith and were entitled to immunity.
He further ruled that the statements could not have been defamation since they were true.
Smith had taken issue with a “Less Than Honorable Service” notification Johnstone had filed with the Consolidated Retirement Board indicating that she had left her position with a $6,000 unpaid balance on her own water bill and that she had permitted friends not to pay their water bills.
Sanders noted that Smith’s husband, David, was one of the larger debtors with an unpaid balance of $6,043, and that one couple, who she testified were friends, owed $6,045 when she was fired. He noted that another friend was allowed to carry a $5,000 water bill and was never forced to pay it.
Smith had also alleged that Addy and Johnstone had caused a series of articles that appeared in the Spirit following her termination to be published. Sanders noted, correctly, that neither Addy nor Johnstone were sources for those articles.
Sanders also ruled that the information contained in the stories, indicating that Smith had been fired for failure to collect large sums of water bills, was true.
“We were pleased that Judge Sanders saw the case the way we did. We have felt since the beginning that the court should rule as it did,” said Jeffrey Molenda, defense counsel for Addy and Johnstone.[/cleeng_content]