Monday, July 19, 2010

Town Faces $30M Lawsuit Over Solar Farm

The town and three council members are being sued for more than $30 million for allegedly defaming a business and two individuals with regard to a proposed solar energy farm.

David W. Silek, of the Manassas law firm of Ours & Silek, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Warren County Circuit Court on behalf of SolAVerde LLC, Donald F. Poe and Gregory A. Horton.

In addition to the town, other defendants in the lawsuit are Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway and Councilmen Carson C. Lauder Jr. and Thomas H. Sayre.

"In an ethical society, elected officials do not engage a policy of the 'ends justifying the means,' but that is exactly the strategy or tactics employed by the Defendants and related parties to serve their private political goals and to stop the development of clean green solar power, both in the Town of Front Royal, Virginia and elsewhere," Silek says in the lawsuit.

Silek says Horton and Poe are partners in SolAVerde. Horton is the owner of Arctic Air Refrigeration Inc. in Front Royal and Poe operates a local construction business, Silek says, adding there could possibly be other plaintiffs added to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs were first defamed, Silek says, when a member of the Town Council leaked confidential documents to The Northern Virginia Daily in April.

The leaked documents include an April 8 confidential memo from Town Attorney Thomas R. Robinett to the council. In the memo, Robinett refers to "Standard Energy/Solar/SolAVerde" offering 200 jobs and $1.2 million in incentives that were not in a bid for construction of a solar energy farm.

Also among the leaked documents was a memo from Megan C. Rahman, an attorney with the Richmond law firm of Troutman Sanders who specializes in white-collar crime. She notes that background provided by Robinett indicates that one of the three finalists in the bidding for the solar firm project "secretly offered incentives to the Town Manager [J. Michael Graham] that were not contained in its written response" to the request for proposals.

While it appears that Graham did not accept the offer, Rahman says that based on information provided by Robinett, it could be construed as a bribe. Graham has maintained that he was never offered a bribe.

Silek says in the lawsuit that SolAVerde and Standard Energy LLC, whose bid on the town's request for proposal was the top-ranked among all that were received, are "separate and distinct" entities and that none of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit submitted a bid proposal to the town for the construction of a solar farm.

"Considering the fact that Plaintiffs were not part of one of the 'top three' responders to the RFP, it was tortuous to include Plaintiffs in any discussion and should not have been named as a party that 'secretly' offered incentives to the Town Manager that were not contained in its written response to the RFP," Silek says.

In addition to defaming the plaintiffs when Holloway and Lauder inquired of Robinett on March 30 if the "incentives" Graham mentioned to the council constituted a bribe being offered, Silek says Holloway, Lauder and Sayre also defamed his clients when they voted publicly for a state police investigation of the allegation.

"In sum, and taken as a whole," Silek says, "the actions of the Defendants and accusations by them of improper secret meetings or secret proposals and of bribery would be understood by the average hearer or reader or citizen as communicating the defamatory meaning that the Plaintiffs engaged in an unethical manner as well as criminal behavior."

Silek goes on to say that as a result of the defamatory statements made against Horton and Poe, they have suffered financially and emotionally and "that all hope of anything resembling a 'normal life' which they had before is now over and has been destroyed permanently due to the defamation levied by Defendants."

The town is a party to the lawsuit, Silek says, because it "acted with negligence and actual malice in publishing and or sharing or leaking the false and defamatory statements, express and implied."

Silek is asking for a jury trial, and in addition to seeking $30 million from the defendants jointly and severally, he is seeking on behalf of his clients $350,000 in punitive damages from each defendant, jointly and severally, as well as costs.

The defendants have 21 days to respond to the lawsuit from the time they are served. While Holloway and Lauder preferred not to comment on the advice of counsel, Sayre, an attorney, was outspoken in defending himself.

"Speaking only for myself in regards to the lawsuit from the office of David Silek, in my opinion people elect local legislators to look after their best interests, and the town and county's best interest," Sayre said Friday. "I stand by my decision to request a formal investigation into the questions raised by Town Attorney Tom Robinett and the law offices of Troutman Sanders to clear up matters and enable the Town Council to make informed decisions regarding the averred bribery of around $1.2 million. I believe the investigation could have benefited all of the interested parties. As a local legislator, I work for the common good of the people."


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