Interference claims against Newsoms dismissed

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A judge accepted a demurrer filed on behalf of the Town of Newsoms and dismissed all tortious interference claims brought by Randall-Page P.C. on behalf of former Newsoms Police Chief Jeffrey McKenney at the Godwin Courthouse in downtown Suffolk on Tuesday.

The claims were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be brought back up in the next court session, and the plaintiff was given until Tuesday, Dec. 13, to file an amended complaint concerning the wrongful termination and defamation claims.

This marks the latest development in an ongoing lawsuit first brought against the Town of Newsoms by McKenney in late 2015, which alleged three counts of tortious interference in a contractual relationship, one count of wrongful termination and one count of defamation. McKenney’s original suit sought $1.329 million in damages, and specifically named the city’s then-Mayor Kenneth Cooke and then-Vice Mayor Harvey Porter, along with several town council members and the Town of Newsoms in general.

The suit brought by McKenney alleges that Cooke and Porter maliciously and falsely claimed McKenney had stolen money from his last job, was convicted of a felony and that he was fired by the Town of Newsoms for falsifying hours worked.

McKenney was terminated as the Town of Newsoms’ chief of police on Aug. 18, 2015, via a letter written by Cooke, which alleged McKenney had falsified his time sheets. The letter also referenced concerns raised by Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke regarding a 2012 grand jury indictment in which McKenney was charged with one felony count of obtaining money under false pretenses while employed by the Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Department, a charge, which was ultimately dismissed but resulted in the Commonwealth’s Attorney informing the former mayor that he would no longer consider McKenney a credible witness.

McKenney was reinstated by Newsoms’ town council on Aug. 20, 2015, after his attorney, Jack Randall, attended an emergency called council meeting and stated that the mayor had no authority to fire McKenney. McKenney’s employment was ultimately re-terminated on Sept. 16, 2015, when council voted to dissolve the town’s police department, place McKenney on paid administrative leave through Oct. 8, 2015, and terminate police Lt. Jerry Studer with cause.

According to Jeff Wilson, an attorney with Pender and Coward P.C. representing the Town of Newsoms, tortious interference is an allegation that a third party has stepped in and interfered with a contractual relationship, causing it to be breached.

According to Daniel Vinson, an attorney with Randall-Page, the proceedings Tuesday were a simple legal formality to give the plaintiff time to amend his complaint.

“The order gave us leave to amend and get rid of names of council members named individually in the suit because they weren’t actors in the lawsuit,” Vinson said.

He added that the amended complaint will still include the wrongful termination claim.

The demurrer and court proceedings from Tuesday were submitted to Southampton County’s Circuit Court on Tuesday evening.