Jorea Marple lawsuit moving forward

by Andrea Lannom, Legal affairs writer
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A Kanawha County judge will let a lawsuit filed by former state Superintendent Jorea Marple move forward.

The state Board of Education and its former president Wade Linger filed a motion to certify a question to the West Virginia Supreme Court to see whether Marple was an at-will employee, as the board contends.

The board also wanted to put proceedings in Kanawha Circuit Court on hold until justices made a decision.

Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky denied this motion, which Marple’s attorney, Patrick Maroney, said means the case can go forward with discovery and setting a trial date.

About two years ago Marple was fired following an efficiency audit that found the Department of Education was wasting millions. She filed multiple lawsuits alleging she was unlawfully fired and that board members conspired to remove her from office.

Attorneys filed the most recent lawsuit last April in circuit court after they asked a federal judge to dismiss a similar complaint.

Stucky previously denied the board’s request to dismiss the case and the board has appealed this denial to the state Supreme Court, seeking to determine whether the board is immune from litigation in this case.

Victor Flanagan, who represents Linger and the board, previously argued his clients can’t be sued because they acted within the functions of their job.

Flanagan took issue with Marple’s claims, saying in particular that even though she alleges there was a breach of contract, there was no contract. He said the state constitution prohibits the board from even making such a contract.

He said if Marple’s claims were successful, then it would prevent state agencies from having the constitutional authority of discharging at-will employees and would create “an unintended lifelong position.”

He said to make some of her claims, she would have had to have a private contract, “not a unilateral expectation of continued employment.”

“There is no written contract. There’s no evidence of that. … They just allege there is one,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan also contended that attorneys have spent “tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars” in a case that he argued could be cut short by letting the state Supreme Court address these issues.

Marple’s attorney Tim Barber said there isn’t a basis to certify a question because there is a question of the facts in this case. He said there are “all kinds of disputed facts,” mentioning as an example Flanagan’s argument that there wasn’t a contract. Barber said plaintiffs argue there was a contract.

“If you don’t have that, then you can’t certify,” Barber said. “Unless you have an undisputed factual record, which the legal issues can be determined, you can’t do it.”

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.