In a court hearing Wednesday, counsel representing the West Virginia Board of Education asked that all claims by former state schools superintendent Jorea Marple regarding her termination be dismissed. Attorneys representing Marple — whose abrupt firing in November 2012 shocked the state — are fighting for a full airing of issues in court and the opportunity to cross examine members of the school board, which is led by Gayle Manchin.
In addition to claims that the school board broke open-meeting laws when it voted to fire Marple, her attorneys, Tim Barber, Patrick Maroney and Andrew MacQueen, say Marple’s constitutional rights were violated and that, since her termination, she has faced severe defamation and cannot secure education-related employment.
Marple is suing the school board for wrongful termination, alleging that school board member Wade Linger — who was serving as board president at the time of her firing — “contrived in secret” for months before her actual termination and began an agenda of his own to replace her by working to recruit allies on the board and find her replacement.
“They had a person present who was going to be named the new superintendent of schools, and that’s something that absolutely should be brought out in a full hearing in this case,” Maroney told Judge James Stucky on Wednesday in Kanawha County Circuit Court. “[Linger] is here, and if he wants to get up and deny that, we’d like him to . . . . If that’s not covert, then nothing is, and that’s a total violation of the open-meetings law in West Virginia.”
According to documents obtained by the Gazette, Linger reached out to Jim Phares — who was sworn in as superintendent quickly after Marple was fired — before the board’s vote to fire her, and Phares met with Linger and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin the day of Marple’s firing.
Phares has since retired and will be replaced as superintendent by Maryland transplant Michael Martirano. The school board hired an outside search firm for nearly $45,000 to find Martirano.
Marple was essentially fired twice, after questions arose about the legality of the board’s original firing process, which involved a lengthy private session and led the board to conduct a do-over.
School board members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips were the only two to not vote against Marple, and both subsequently resigned from the board.
Haden and Phillips were present at Wednesday’s hearing, along with Marple’s husband, former state attorney general Darrell McGraw.
Charleston attorney Victor Flanagan, representing the school board, asked that all charges against the board and Linger be dismissed, saying that Marple was a “will and pleasure” employee of the state and that Linger should be granted immunity because the case concerns actions he took in his capacity as a state official.
State law protects state employees in certain legal cases.
“We believe the law is clear that, in the state of West Virginia, that as an at-will employee, this board, this president, had a right and duty to make a decision. That’s part of their constitutional charge . . . as members on the Board of Education. That’s the difficult decisions they have to make,” Flanagan said. “In this case, they made one, and they are immune from it . . . and they should be dismissed from this action.”
Stucky agreed to grant the Board of Education a protective order until a decision is made. The two parties will meet in court again Sept. 17, when a judge could grant or deny the board’s motion to dismiss the charges.
Flanagan also claims that Marple’s counsel broke state laws by not issuing the board a notice of intent within the appropriate timeline.
Barber said Wednesday that the case “is not pretty at all.”
“They don’t want to go any further, and I don’t blame them,” he said. “It’s a nasty, nasty case that has to do with the highest levels of state government.”
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.