The Times West Virginian

Local News

March 14, 2014

Commissioners-Humphreys legal battles settled

Four years and two lawsuits later, case is ‘concluded’

FAIRMONT — Four years and two lawsuits later, legal battles between the Marion County Commission, a former employee and two commissioners have finally been settled.

The civil suit filed by commissioners Randy Elliott and Burley “Butch” Tennant against former county human resources director Rick Humphreys was settled early Tuesday evening, just hours before the case was headed to circuit court to be heard before Judge Larry Starcher.

According to Elliott, after regular business hours Tuesday, he and Tennant were contacted and offered an undisclosed settlement in the civil case, which accused Humphreys of malicious prosecution and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress.

Elliott said the suit was “settled out of court to our satisfaction.”

The legal battles between Humphreys, the commission and commissioners date back to Dec. 31, 2009, when the commission eliminated the human resources position because they said they felt elected officials were not using it enough within the courthouse to justify the cost. Humphreys filed suit against the commission and Elliott and Tennant as individuals, claiming he was not given a position of equal or lesser compensation within the county.

In the original lawsuit, Humphreys claimed that during his two years of employment with the county, he observed up to 20 illegal or improper employment practices, and that he was the victim of breach of contract, age discrimination, defamation, retaliatory discharge, failure to rehire and retrain, malicious prosecution and abuse of process by the commission. The late commissioner Wayne Stutler, who sat on the commission when the position was eliminated and voted in favor of the action, was not named in the 2011 suit.

On Aug. 10, 2012, Humphreys vol­untarily dropped all charges against Tennant. On Sept. 6, 2012, the first day of the jury trial, Humphreys dropped all charges against Elliott. And on Sept. 7, 2012, a Marion County jury awarded Humphreys $174,000 in past and future lost wages, which equated to about $190,000 with interest.

The county commission appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court in December 2012, asking that the monetary judgment be vacated and that a new trial be granted. That appeal has since been dropped, county administrator Kris Cinalli said Thursday. Last spring, the county’s insurance company, which is handled through the West Virginia Counties Risk Pool, decided to settle the case out of court despite the pending appeal. Cinalli said the appeal was dropped because of the settlement.

During the same time period, Elliott and Tennant filed a civil suit against Humphreys, claiming that the original lawsuit the former employee filed was “malicious, asserted without reasonable or probable cause, and (was) made in a vindictive, intentional and deliberate attempt to injure the good standing and reputation” of the commissioners within the community.

The suit said Elliott and Tennant were specifically attacked and targeted by Humphreys’ lawsuit following the former employee’s failed attempt to unseat Elliott as an independent candidate in the 2010 election.

“The deliberate and vindictive prosecution that was based on meritless claims and the associated negative publicity is why we brought the civil action against Rick Humphreys,” Elliott said Thursday. “For someone to go to the depth that he did to file these claims and then drop every one of them on the eve of the trial, they shouldn’t get away with it. We suffered through 15 months, defending ourselves against seven (illegal employment) claims and 20 illegal activities claims, going through depositions, discovery and spending hundreds of hours and then every single claim was dropped.”

In the civil suit filed by the commissioners against him, Humphreys was being represented by Curtis Power of Bowles Rice LLC out of Winchester, Va. A message to Power’s office Thursday was not returned. A call to Humphreys’ home Thursday evening was not returned.

“To me, it’s concluded,” Elliott said. “I’m just glad at this point in time this ongoing case has been concluded.”

Tennant said that resolution of this suit will allow them to stop having to defend a four-year-old case.

“We disagreed with the allegations and immediately took to defending ourselves publicly and in court,” Tennant explained. “After several months of litigation and extensive negotiations, we have agreed to a confidential settlement in this case.

“As a member of this community all my life, nothing is more important to me than my integrity, and when someone wrongfully accuses you, the most important things on your mind are getting your name cleared and the matter corrected. The result of this suit allows us to move forward and focus on what I was elected to do — protect and serve the residents of Marion County.”

Email Misty Poe at mpoe@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV.

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