Judge Baskervill will hear suits

Published 10:18 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

Retired Circuit Court Judge Pamela S. Baskervill has been designated to preside over four civil suits filed against Crossroads Community Services Board by four former employees of the Farmville-based agency.

The suits will be heard in Prince Edward Circuit Court.

The designation from Donald W. Lemmons, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, comes days after member counties of Crossroads — which have been named in the suits — asked for dismissal from the lawsuits.

Attorneys representing Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties recently filed “pleas in bar and demurrers” in Prince Edward County Circuit Court, asking the court to dismiss the complaints “and grant them such other and further relief as may be appropriate.”

In May, Leslie M. Osborn, the chief judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit, said it would be “improper” for judges in the circuit to preside over any of the four civil suits.

According to the demurrers, the complaints contain no allegation of “any action whatsoever — let alone any unlawful action” by the counties.

In early May, Cynthia Morris, who served as coordinator of nursing services; Laura Baldwin, office manager; Jonathan Crawford, substance abuse coordinator and substance abuse director; and Marina Sinyard, director of long-term care, filed suits against Crossroads and the counties, in addition to individually suing Crossroads Executive Director Dr. Susan Baker, and Board Chairman Sidney Smyth.

Baker offered no comment this week on the suits.

“I have been instructed by my attorney not to talk to anyone about the case,” Smyth told The Herald.

The suits, which seek punitive and actual damages from Baker and Smyth, were filed May 2.

A lawsuit represents just one side of a legal argument.

According to the suits, the four employees were terminated Jan. 20 by Baker as part of what she called a “‘reduction in force.’” The suits claim that the four were terminated in retaliation for complaints lodged against the agency.

The four are seeking actual damages of $300,000, punitive damages of $500,000 against Baker and Smyth individually, non-economic compensatory damages, back pay, monetary equivalent of the value of their future employment, litigation costs and reinstatement with full seniority status.

The four suits demand a jury trial.

“Plaintiff asserts the legal conclusion that the County Defendants ‘collectively, comprise the Defendant Crossroads Community Services Board,’” the demurrer filed by Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Charlotte, Prince Edward and Lunenburg states. “This is incorrect as a matter of law. The (Community Services Board) and each of the County Defendants are separate legal entities. There mere fact that the County Defendants appoint the members of the CSB’s Board or serve in the same geographical areas does not make them the same entity.”

According to the pleas in bar from the member counties, the plaintiffs have not complied with Virginia code sections and the counties have “sovereign immunity.”

The suits came after six people criticized and condemned the Crossroads Community Services Board administration during the board’s April meeting, saying that staff were fearfully silent, “struggling to maintain a positive morale,” acknowledging an atmosphere of “uncertainty and distrust,” and a lack of leadership and abuse of power.

There was no public comment during the board’s May and June meetings.

Several weeks ago, the board gave Baker a vote of confidence, renewing her contract that was set to expire next month.

According to the demurrers, only one count in the suits pertains to the counties — the alleged violations of the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (VFATA).

“The Complaint fails to allege any violation of VFATA. None of the actions and inactions of the CSB or any other person alleged in the Complaint constitute violations of VFATA. At best, they merely allege disagreements with the Community Services Board (CSB) director about management practices and decisions.”

Court documents filed by the counties state other reasons why the suits should be dismissed, including violation of rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia and being sued under wrong forum of the Code of Virginia.

No trial date has been set for the suits.