Liberty Township Trustee Mike Gemperline has filed a lawsuit against seven Powell residents who he claims defamed him and abused the process when they organized a petition to remove him from office last year.
The lawsuit was filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court by Joshua Brown, Gemperline’s attorney, and names seven Powell residents — Domenico Franano, Karen Slavik, Rebecca Mount, Susan Miceli, Kerry Daly, William Houk and Gary R. Johnson — as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges the individuals committed defamation, fraud in inducement to residents to sign petition; fraud in inducement to residents to donate funds; telecommunications harassment; unjust enrichment; abuse of process; frivolous conduct in filing civil claims; intentional infliction of emotional distress; false light and civil conspiracy.
The lawsuit comes as fallout from a legal battle between Save Our Services, a local organization, and Liberty Township Trustees Gemperline and Melanie Leneghan that took place last year.
In the lawsuit, Brown outlines the events that led to the suit being filed, stating that shortly after Gemperline took office in January 2018, he met with a Delaware County commissioner and the chief of the Delaware County Emergency Medical Services to discuss ways to improve EMS services in Liberty Township. Brown said that Gemperline had been clear with officials and others that he would never reduce or negatively affect fire and EMS service in the township and never proposed any arrangements or plans to change Delaware County’s involvement in Liberty Township fire and EMS services.
Brown writes that in June 2018, Shyra Eichhorn, a Liberty Township trustee, “threw many Liberty Township residents into a panic by making misleading social media posts on multiple community forums” alleging that because of Gemperline and his “plan,” township residents would be “in jeopardy of losing Liberty Township-based EMS.”
“Eichhorn’s statement initiated speculation across social media by the defendants and other community members that Delaware County EMS would replace Liberty Township EMS and over the course of the next several months knowingly and falsely held out to the community that the speculative statements were Gemperline’s ‘plan’ to dismantle Liberty Township EMS,” Brown wrote in the suit.” (These allegations) were demonstrably false, and defendants knew it.”
Brown writes that Eichhorn knew the allegations were false but did not correct her “dissemination of misinformation” for at least a year.
Brown wrote that because of Eichhorn and the defendant’s misinformation, Liberty Township meetings became “overfilled with angry residents” and nonresidents who were misled.
On Oct. 1, Delaware County Administrator Michael Frommer appeared before trustees and said the township could formally request a proposal from the county to assist with Liberty Township EMS, which the trustees voted to do.
“Defendants conspired, around this time, to do lifelong reputational damage to Gemperline,” Brown wrote. “…To bolster their malicious claims, the defendants began taking donations to pay a legal team to file a Complaint to Remove Gemperline from office.”
Brown wrote that the defendants and their legal team drafted a petition for Removal from Office and knew that the “facts presented in the petition to be meritless and untrue.”
“The defendants knowingly and maliciously used assertions that were patently false and malicious to induce residents to sign the petition and donate money to their effort,” Brown said.
Brown wrote that Gemperline investigated the matter and believes that some signatories were shown a false summary and were only told the petition would “save Liberty EMS” without being told what the allegations of the petition were.
“The defendants mislead potential donors and signors to their lawsuit by labeling their activities at times ‘Save our Services’ and ‘Save Liberty Fire/EMS’ implying signatories were signing to support their local EMS,” Brown wrote. “They were often not clear with potential signatories that their action was to remove a trustee. In doing so, the defendants exercised malice or reckless disregard for the truth of the assertions made in their attempts to gain funding and signatures for their activities in preparing and filing the Removal Complaint.”
The complaint was filed in the summer of 2019 but was voluntarily dismissed by the defendants before making it to trial.
“The defendants never intended to go forward with the lawsuit,” Brown wrote. “…Defendants used the lawsuit as a means of attacking Gemperline, before and after it was dismissed.”
Brown said Gemperline, a salesman by trade, has found “hatred directed at him from all corners of the township” because of the petition and “abuse of the legal process.” He adds Gemperline has been stalked, photographed privately, and had his vehicle defaced. Brown states that Gemperline has suffered economic damages, emotional distress, and physical health problems as a result of the complaint.
Brown writes that Daly, Houk, Johnson, Miceli and Mount formed the committee to collect signatures and file the complaint, and Slavik and Franano were “instrumental in the illegal actions” described in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit asks that the defendants pay in excess of $25,000 in money damages, $1,218,000 in punitive damages, and demands that the defendants pay Gemperline’s legal feels.
There have been no further filings in the case since summons were issued to the defendants in the case.
Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David Gormley will preside over the case.
Gemperline and Franano declinded to comment Wednesday.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.