The seven defendants named in a defamation lawsuit by Liberty Township Trustee Mike Gemperline have filed a motion asking for the case to be dismissed.
The lawsuit was filed by Gemperline in April and alleges that a number of 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 seven Powell residents named in the lawsuit — Domenico Franano, Karen Slavik, Rebecca Mount, Susan Miceli, Kerry Daly, William Houk and Gary R. Johnson — filed a motion recently asking Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David Gormley to dismiss the lawsuit.
The lawsuit centers around the legal battle that took place between Save Our Services, a local organization, and Liberty Township trustees Gemperline and Melanie Leneghan.
In his lawsuit, Gemperline said that in June 2018, Liberty Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn “threw many (township residents) into a panic” by misleading posts stating that the township’s residents were in danger of losing Liberty Township-based EMS after Gemperline had with a meeting Delaware County EMS officials.
Gemperline alleges that the defendants began to spread misleading speculation that county EMS would be replacing the township’s EMS services and drafted a petition to remove Gemperline from office.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants got signatures from residents by misrepresenting the purpose of the petition as “saving” the local EMS service and not a petition to remove Gemperline from office.
The petition succeeded, and a complaint was filed against Gemperline but was later voluntarily dismissed by the defendants before it went to trial. Gemperline said the defendants never intended to try the complaint and just wanted to damage his reputation. Gemperline adds in the lawsuit that he has suffered emotional distress, economic damages, and health problems as a result of the complaint filed by the defendants.
Gemperline alleges 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.
In their motion to dismiss the suit, the defendants say that the defamation elements of Gemperline’s complaint are vague “to the point of being frivolous” and “fail as a matter of law.”
The defendants allege Gemperline’s lawsuit is a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) and say that Gemperline is trying to “repress core political speech of his constituents.”
The defendants spend their 24-page response countering Gemperline’s allegations, primarily stating that Gemperline lacks evidence of malice or “extreme and outrageous conduct,” and disagreements are part of Gemperline’s job as a politician.
“The defendants merely gathered petition signatures and prosecuted a trustee removal action. This was First Amendment-protected conduct that cannot be considered extreme and outrageous. To the contrary, such conduct is integral to the proper functioning of our democracy … As an elected official, he must have thicker skin,” the defendants’ attorneys write in their motion.
There have no additional filings in the case since the motion was filed on May 29.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-093 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.