Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sun Valley defamation hearing postponed


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

The next step in an ongoing legal battle and war of words between a Sun Valley city councilman and the attorney for a former city administrator—originally set for today in 5th District Court—has been postponed.

The hearing on a motion for summary judgment, filed by Jim Donoval, attorney for and husband of former City Administrator Sharon Hammer, was delayed because the judge hearing the case is unavailable. A new date had not been set as of press time Tuesday.

City Councilman Nils Ribi filed the suit against Donoval on Dec. 30, alleging that he had made defamatory statements about Ribi's mental and emotional health in written correspondence to Sun Valley officials.

The legal squabble began in November, when Hammer sued the city, Ribi, Councilman Bob Youngman and City Attorney Adam King, alleging that Ribi had repeatedly harassed her and sought to have her removed from her job. She contended that Youngman and King colluded in that effort.

Hammer dropped her lawsuit in January, and the city terminated her contract a couple of weeks later.

In his complaint, Ribi alleges that "[t]he Defendant knew or had reason to know that other persons, including the city attorney, city clerk, city treasurer and other city employees would read or otherwise be exposed to the defamatory statements made by [Donoval]. ..."

Ribi also asserts that Donoval's actions were not a legitimate defense of his client; rather, he contends, Donoval made those claims knowing they were false in order to subject Ribi to "public hatred, contempt, and ridicule. ... "

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Donoval is asking the court for summary judgment on the grounds that as an attorney, he is immune from a defamation action for submitting pre-litigation correspondence to prospective defendants. He also claims that the correspondence was marked "strictly confidential," demonstrating that he did not intend them for wider distribution.

"[I]n order for Council Member Ribi to avoid summary judgment, Council Member Ribi must show that rather than acting in the best interest of his client, that Mr. Donoval solely sought some kind of personal gain in his actions, independent and unrelated to Mr. Donoval's desire to protect his client," Donoval stated in a memorandum in support of his summary judgment motion.

Donoval filed a counterclaim against Ribi and his attorney, Keith Roark, contending they defamed him in correspondence to City Council members and intentionally caused him emotional distress.

As to Hammer's suit against Ribi, when she withdrew it, the court dismissed it "without prejudice," meaning she can refile. Court documents indicate she plans to resurrect the complaint.

"[The suit] will certainly be refiled within the next few months now that Ms. Hammer has been officially terminated by the City Of Sun Valley after Ms. Hammer made clear the allegations of harassment and hostile work environment to the City Of Sun Valley against Council Member Ribi," Donoval stated in his memorandum in support of his motion for summary judgment.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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