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Past cases prove Marple's firing unjust, attorneys say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Four veteran lawyers representing ousted state schools superintendent Jorea Marple in a lawsuit against the West Virginia Board of Education say they're confident that past rulings in similar cases will bring her justice.

Several court rulings involving "will and pleasure" state employees who have been terminated set the stage for Marple's situation, according to Tim Barber, one of the lawyers representing her.

Marple says that she was illegally dismissed by the board in November and has subsequently "suffered humiliation and anguish."

 "It's a very interesting case. This is supported by solid jurisprudence in West Virginia Supreme Court cases. I'm confident in that, absolutely," Barber said Thursday. "We are satisfied that we have a very solid foundation for this."

In addition to Barber, Marple is represented by former state Democratic Party chairmen Rudolph DiTrapano and Patrick Maroney and former Kanawha circuit judge Andrew MacQueen. The four issued a letter of intent to sue the board "and others" on her behalf on Wednesday -- the same day that former Randolph County superintendent Jim Phares was sworn in to replace her.

On Thursday, a letter was sent to state school board president Wade Linger clarifying that Marple intends to sue the Board of Education specifically, as opposed to the department as a whole. Statute requires such a letter of intent be issued 30 days prior before suing a state agency. That means, according to the letter's date, that the lawsuit could come as soon as Jan. 28.

The letter, also sent to the Attorney General's office, alleges Marple's termination was done illegally and demands her "immediate restoration" to the position of superintendent of schools, in addition to compensatory and punitive damages for what her lawyers say was a wrongful termination.

The board's actions have caused "permanent injury" to Marple's reputation, hurting her ability to secure present and future employment, according to the letter.

"Her right to enjoy life free from the unfounded action by the Board has been impaired, and she has been severely inconvenienced in her life," the notice prepared by Barber states. "Since the action of the Board was without any legal or ethical basis, it was clearly accomplished by willful, wanton and/or malicious conduct on the part of the Board."

As an alternative to regaining her position, Marple instead demands a full due process hearing in which the board will be asked to prove, "with competent, admissible evidence," that her conduct warranted dismissal, according to the letter.

"In any job that you are working for the government and you're an at-will employee, you have a liberty interest in continued government employment as long as you don't do anything wrong. And if you do something wrong, you have to have an opportunity to cross examine witnesses on that very issue right there - 'Did I do something wrong that warranted this?" Barber said. "In a nutshell, the board can do one of two things: Rehire her and pay her back her money or give her the opportunity to hear the specific reasons for her firing."

"All four of us have a whole lot of experience," Barber said.

Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the Board of Education, and Victor Flanagan, the lawyer representing the board, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter before a complaint has officially been filed.

 Meanwhile, a petition filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of the parents of a Boone County student alleges that the board violated open meeting laws by firing Marple without notice on the agenda. The board later revoted to fire Marple in an attempt to resolve any violations of the law during the first voting process.

Board members will meet in regular session next Wednesday, where they will discuss the potential of a nationwide search for a more long-term replacement for Marple.

Phares only plans to hold the position in the mean time, with a focus on tackling the governor's public education audit recommendations.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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