Judge Dismisses Second Suit

Published 12:01 am Friday, April 8, 2016

A circuit judge on Thursday dismissed a second complaint filed against the City of Troy, its mayor and four of its council members in the wake of the appointment of a new fire chief.

“We felt we had proper legal grounds for dismissal and we’re glad the judge agreed with us,” said Rainer Cotter III, one of the attorneys representing the City of Troy.

Eric Hutchins, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the decision would be appealed. “The defendants in the Open Meetings Act suits cannot avoid the substance of the litigation,” he said. “Just as in the Jones suit, the court’s decision will be appealed … The council members will have to answer the public’s legitimate questions.”

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The suit, filed Feb. 8 by Jason and Juretha Thomas and Jake Wingard, was one of three complaints filed against the city, Mayor Jason Reeves, and council members Charlie “Sarge” Dunn, Greg Meeks, Marcus Paramore and Johnny Witherington. All stem from the process the council used in selecting the new fire chief.

The first suit was filed by Troy Fire Marshal Willie Jones, seeking to reverse the appointment of Michael “Buford” Stephens. Jones was one of four internal candidates for the position, and his suit said alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act and an illegal committee meeting during the selection process.

That suit was dismissed Judge Shannon Clark in February, and Jones this week filed a notice of appeal with the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama.

The third suit was filed in federal court by District 5 Councilwoman Dejerilyn King Henderson, the only council member not cited in the other complaints. Henderson has been an advocate for Jones and her suit against the mayor and her fellow council members says their actions have violated her First Amendment rights and her right to due process. Hutchins also has filed motions to disqualify the defense attorneys. Judge Myron H. Thompson set a May 3 date for receiving briefs and has said he will review without a hearing.

Cotter declined to comment on the other litigation, adding, “two state court cases have been dismissed, and we have filed a motion to dismiss the federal court case.”

Hutchins said the cases all stem from violations of the Open Meetings Act and also question the validity of the legal representation for the City of Troy. “In defending each of these suits, defendants have violated the Open Meetings Act,” he said.

“The public should know that in each suit the court has never addressed the central issue of whether the Open Meetings Act was violated by holding secret meetings to hire attorneys with public monies to defend council member defendants in suits filed against them.”