Court date set in suit against troubled SAAA

Posted: October 13, 2012

The Winchester Star

FRONT ROYAL — A Nov. 9 court date has been scheduled in a lawsuit filed against the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) that has been dormant for months.

Retired Judge Gaylord L. Finch will hear hear arguments in Warren County Circuit Court in a demurrer filed on behalf of the agency and its affiliated named plaintiffs, seeking to have Ann McIntyre’s lawsuit dismissed.

A demurrer is a pleading in a lawsuit that objects to or challenges a pleading filed by an opposing party.

McIntyre is seeking up to $2.35 million in damages. Her complaint — filed by Carla D. Brown of Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown in Reston last Oct. 26 and amended Dec. 28 — accuses the agency and some of its staff of defamation. McIntyre was terminated as the SAAA’s director of development Sept. 8, 2011.

The suit alleges that agency officials defamed McIntyre by allowing her name to be linked in newspaper reports to agency financial irregularities before clarifying that she was fired because of a policy violation.

Helen Cockrell, the agency’s president and chief executive officer, and Jim Shaffer, its finance director, also were terminated Sept. 8. Their firings were tied to the recently discovered financial problems.

The lawsuit states that McIntyre was terminated because she violated an agency policy on credit-card use, and asserts that newspaper stories improperly linked her to the larger financial problems.

It alleges that McIntyre has suffered personal and professional damage because of the alleged defamation and will suffer future lost income and professional advancement.

In addition to the SAAA, four people are named as defendants: Cindy Palmer, the agency’s acting president and CEO; Roberta Lauder, its director of resource development; John Hudson, chairman of its board of directors; and Benjamin Butler, its attorney.

The agency’s demurrer states that McIntyre’s lawsuit does not provide statements directly attributed to the defendants to support her accusations. It states that the passages cited in the lawsuit are “the spin and innuendo made by the newspaper reporter.”

Rosalie Fessier of the Staunton firm Timberlake, Smith, Thomas and Moses is representing the defendants.

Little has occurred related to the case since last winter. Judge Dennis Hupp recused himself from the case Feb. 27 because Butler regularly appears in his court, and the rest of the judges in the 26th Judicial Circuit followed suit March 8.

Finch was appointed to preside over the case in June.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw