Wayne Co. school board member files second suit over robocalls

By Chris Dickerson | Mar 10, 2017

CHARLESTON – A member of the Wayne County Board of Education has filed a second lawsuit against the school board and an employee.

Joann Hurley filed the second suit Feb. 27 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the board and Thomas Messer, a board employee. That follows a federal lawsuit she filed in October against the same defendants.

In her latest lawsuit, Hurley accuses the board and Messer, a technology specialist for the school system, of defaming her and causing emotional distress with negative phone calls that were sent out about her during her 2016 re-election bid. Hurley did retain her seat.

Hurley, who has served eight years on the board, says she and others in Wayne County received illegal prerecorded “political robocalls” that each “broadcasted a false and misleading statement about plaintiff Joanne Hurley in regards to her bid for re-election to the WCBOE” between Feb. 25, 2016, and May 9, 2016.

The federal class-action lawsuit accuses the board and Messer of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act because the phone calls failed to state the identity of the entity initiating the calls and for failing to state clearly the phone number or address for the entity. Besides Hurley, anyone who received those calls could become a member of the class.

“As part of initial discovery in the related federal court class action, defendant Thomas Messer … has admitted to creating, broadcasting and initiating the subject pre-recorded messages,” Hurley’s Kanawha County complaint states. “Caller ID records also confirm defendant Messer’s involvement with the subject prerecorded messages. In fact, if ‘0’ was hit immediately following the prerecorded messages, it would state that ‘You have reached the voicemail of Thomas Messer.’”

Hurley lists some of the false and misleading statements made in the calls. One claimed Hurley “votes no for students … no for schools,” while others accused her of favoritism and nepotism.

Hurley says Messer was working for the board, and she claims the messages were published and broadcast primarily during regular business hours when Messer would have been working for the board. She also says the messages were sent to people on the board’s master call list that includes numbers for employees, staff, volunteers, students, substitute teachers and emergency contacts for students and employees.

Hurley also says she and other board members were given written documentation from an alleged anonymous “Mad Taxpayer” that contained many of the same false and misleading statements contained in the prerecorded messages that also contained a video of her and her husband at a board meeting. She says the video was property of the school board.

Even though she won re-election, Hurley says her reputation has been damaged. She also says she “has been greatly troubled by these false and misleading statements, as well as defendants’ harassing and bullying techniques” to try to defeat her and “keep other quality candidates in the future from running for public office in Wayne County.”

Hurley says she has endured extreme mental anguish and suffering, extreme emotional distress and suffering, aggravation, defamation of character, economic losses, loss of capacity to enjoy life and usual pursuits, embarrassment and humiliation, annoyance and inconvenience.

She seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as court costs, attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief. She is represented by attorney J. Ryan Stewart of Bailey Javins & Carter LC in Charleston.

With the federal case, both the board and Messer asked the court to dismiss the action against them. In both of their answers, the board and Messer say Messer acted alone and not on behalf of the board and did not use the board’s master call list.

In her response to those answers, Hurley maintains she has “sufficient facts” to support her claim that the board “was involved in initiating these illegal prerecorded political robocalls.”

In the federal case, the school board is represented by Michael J. Farrell and Bernard S. Vallejos of Farrell Farrell & Legg in Huntington and Messer is represented by Huntington attorney W. Michael Frazier of Frazier & Oxley in Huntington.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 17-C-281 and U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia case number 3:16-cv-09949.

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Kanawha Circuit Court U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Huntington Division

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