Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hammer sues former city clerk

Complaint alleges defamation by Kelly Ek

Express Staff Writer

Former Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer has filed a lawsuit against former City Clerk Kelly Ek for allegedly defaming her in two stories published this month in the Idaho Mountain Express. The suit, filed Friday in 5th District Court in Hailey, is the latest in a string of suits and tort claims involving Sun Valley's elected officials and staff that began in November.

Hammer is seeking $300,000 in damages for statements made by Ek in stories published July 4 and July 11 as well in an interview for the second story. The suit was filed on Hammer's behalf by attorney Jim Donoval, who is also her husband.

The Idaho Mountain Express is not named as a defendant.

The July 4 story involved a lawsuit filed by Hammer against the city to get her job back. She contends that she had been illegally fired in retaliation for complaining about alleged verbal harassment of her by City Councilman Nils Ribi. The story contained statements by Ek defending Ribi's actions as a city councilman.

The July 11 story involved claims by Ek that Hammer had neglected her duties and had allowed employees perks that included personal use of city-owned vehicles.

Before the July 11 story was published, the Idaho Mountain Express provided a copy of Ek's statements to Hammer's Boise-based attorney, Joy Vega, to give Hammer an opportunity to respond. Vega submitted a statement that denied all of Ek's claims but provided no details.

The complaint in Hammer's recently filed suit contends that Ek made two defamatory statements in the July 4 story, seven in the interview and 16 in the July 11 story. The complaint alleges that Ek's statements were made "with malice and with the purposeful intent to damage Ms. Hammer's professional reputation and Ms. Hammer's good standing in the community."

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"Ms. Hammer has been severely damaged by the ... defamatory statements including that her professional reputation has been damaged potentially permanently, that her standing in the community has been damaged potentially permanently, and that she has and continues to suffer emotional injury. ... ," the complaint states.

In an email to the Idaho Mountain Express, Donoval stated that "Ms. Ek's credibility at trial is going to be severely tested."

"Ms. Ek should have just kept her mouth shut and rode off into the sunset, as she claimed she wanted to do," Donoval stated. "Now Ms. Ek will face an extensive legal battle over whether she lied to the Idaho Mountain Express to purposefully ruin Ms. Hammer's reputation."

Hammer was fired in January by the City Council upon recommendation by Mayor Dewayne Briscoe. No reason for Hammer's termination was publicly stated, but the council's action followed a report delivered by then Treasurer Michelle Frostenson to then Mayor Wayne Willich in October and to the council in November alleging that Hammer and other employees had "misappropriated City assets in various ways," according to a tort claim filed by Frostenson against the city in June.

In April, the city hired Boise-based law firm Moffatt Thomas to oversee a forensic audit of the city's financial procedures. The audit was scheduled to be completed June 30, but has been extended because, according to Briscoe, the auditors "keep running into new things." In an interview Friday, Moffatt Thomas attorney Clayton Gill said he expected the audit to be completed and delivered to the city "very shortly." He said it will be up to the mayor and City Council to decide how and when the audit's findings will be released to the public.

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