Friday, May 4, 2012

SV defamation suit set for today

Judge to consider summary judgment motion


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Jim Donoval, bottom, Nils Ribi, top

Parties in a Sun Valley defamation suit are scheduled to meet in court today for a hearing on a motion for summary judgment in 5th District Court.

Attorney James Donoval filed the motion in connection with a lawsuit filed against him by Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi late last year.

In the suit, Ribi alleges that Donoval, attorney for and husband of former City Administrator Sharon Hammer, made defamatory statements in written correspondence to Sun Valley officials. The correspondences were part of the initial stages of a lawsuit filed by Hammer against the city, Ribi and other defendants for alleged harassment.

In court documents, Donoval has said he has immunity from a defamation suit in this instance because the relevant correspondences were part of the pre-litigation process. He also asserts that as a councilman, Ribi is a public figure and must show that Donoval meant actual malice to him in making those statements.

In court documents, Ribi asserted that Donoval made statements he knew were untrue to hold Ribi up for public ridicule, rather than for legitimate purposes.

Donoval also stated that the correspondences were marked "strictly confidential" and were not meant for wider distribution. Ribi claims Donoval knew other people would see the communications.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m., today, May 4, before District Judge Jon Brody.

Civil rights violation?

Last week, Donoval filed a supplemental affidavit in support of his motion for summary judgment stating that in December he had filed a claim on Hammer's behalf with the Idaho Commission on Human Rights, charging gender discrimination against Ribi and the city.

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Donoval said he filed the documents to counter Ribi's claim that Hammer's suit alleging harassment and hostile work environment was unfounded, so subsequent filings pertaining to that also were frivolous.

The fact that the human rights commission is investigating the matter demonstrates her claims were valid, Donoval said.

In her lawsuit, Hammer claimed violations of Idaho's Protection of Public Employees Act, on the grounds that Ribi had retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination and other alleged behavior. She later withdrew the suit but retained the right to refile.

The filing form with the commission states that Hammer seeks to bring a "hostile work environment claim." Idaho code requires a potential plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit to first file a complaint with the human rights commission.

Commission Administrator Pamela Parks said Wednesday that she could not confirm, deny or comment on any cases filed with the commission.

Commenting on the process in general, she said that when someone files a complaint with the commission, mediation is usually attempted first.

"Both parties have to be willing to come to the table," she said.

If one party doesn't agree to mediation, the complaint is assigned to an investigator. That person determines the facts of the claim and reviews any evidence, then presents a determination to the commissioners.

The commissioners decide whether there is probable cause to believe discrimination has taken place. If they rule affirmatively, the commission can file a suit on behalf of the claimant.

Parks said the commission does not make reports available to the public.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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