State pays $125k to settle fired AG staffer's suit

By Chris Dickerson | May 3, 2007

CHARLESTON -- The state paid more than $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a fired member of Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office.

In her 2004 lawsuit, Debra Whanger said Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes defamed her on a radio show by calling her a "rogue employee'' and a "cancer that had to be removed from the office.'' That was after Whanger's August 2004 firing.

Whanger was fired after she ordered $141,815 in promotional items bearing the McGraw name. Hughes said Whanger didn't have the authority to make such a large purchase. Whanger maintained that supervisors told her to order the items, and that they were meant to aid McGraw's re-election effort that year. McGraw was re-elected three months later.

Whanger later replaced the slander claim with one saying her firing violated public policy.

Court documents show the suit was dismissed on March 16 as settled. Earlier that month, McGraw's lawyers had asked the judge to rule in his favor.

"Ms. Whanger's attempts to implicate others in her purchase do not provide her a legal defense,'' McGraw's March 7 motion said. "The plaintiff, when invited to do so, could not provide any casual link, retaliatory or not, between her termination and any violation of the public policies.''

The Board of Risk and Insurance Management, which handles claims against the state, made the $125,000 payment Wednesday to Whanger and her lawyers at the Charleston firm of Atkinson & Polak, according to an Associated Press story. Another $3,774 has been paid to lawyers defending the attorney general's office, with more billings expected, the AP reported.

Attorneys for both parties didn't return calls for comment Thursday, and Hughes in the AG's office declined comment.

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