Judge denies Smyth’s motion

Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A circuit court judge has denied a motion craving oyer by Crossroads Community Services Board Chairman Sidney Smyth.

In a court order, Judge Designate Joseph M. Teefey Jr. denied Smyth’s request, stating in the order “the Court does not accept the defendant’s invitation to expand the common law allowance of this defensive pleading into claims sounding in tort. Therefore, defendant Smyth’s motion to crave oyer is denied.”

A motion craving oyer is a request to a party to place documents mentioned in pleadings into the court record.

Smyth’s filing is part of an ongoing civil suit initiated months ago by Crossroads Coordinator of Nursing Services Cynthia Morris, Office Manager Laura Baldwin, Substance Abuse Coordinator and Substance Abuse Director Jonathan Crawford and Director of Long-Term Care Marina Sinyard.

The former employees’ lawsuits, filed in Prince Edward Circuit Court, claim they were terminated by Crossroads Executive Director Dr. Susan Baker on Jan. 20 as part of what she called a “reduction in force” in retaliation for complaints lodged against the agency.

The four employees 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 also demand a jury trial.

In his oyer, Smyth requested the court to order the employees to “produce emails … and incorporate them as exhibits” to the complaint, referring to an email between Smyth and Crawford, in which Smyth allegedly said he did not have time or the desire to micromanage the agency.

“The defendant’s motion seeks to crave oyer over two documents, namely, an email from (Crawford) addressed to defendant Smyth and defendant Smyth’s e-mail responding to Crawford. Defendant Smyth asserts that these documents are necessary to plaintiff’s claim of defamation.”

In a joint response from the four filed prior to Teefey’s denial, the former employees stated Smyth “improperly attempts to crave oyer,” citing specific court cases, claiming the oyer is sought “solely as a vehicle is to rewrite allegations of the Complaints for the purpose of supporting demurrers — a straw man to knock down. This is a procedurally impermissible strategy to which Plaintiffs need not consent.”

In Teefey’s order, he stated that the court found that the defamation count in the plaintiffs’ complaint “sounds in tort. The Court’s review of the common law defensive pleading to crave oyer has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Virginia in contract, probate and chancery matters. Notably absent in the case law of this Commonwealth is any extension craving oyer to tort claims. Furthermore, the General Assembly makes no mention of this common law defensive pleading in any statute or Rule of the Supreme Court of Virginia.”

According to the lawsuits, Smyth allegedly told Crawford, “If you find that you cannot work within these parameters, then I suggest you and your cronies might want to look elsewhere for employment. On a personal note, I think that you need to know that I find insubordination to be despicable. It is immature and unprofessional. Frankly, if you were my subordinate and I found that you were making end runs behind my back to Board members, I would fire you on the spot … I suggest you either conform, communicate with HER, or move on.”

In his response to Baldwin’s suit, Smyth argued, “Because the Plaintiff failed to attach either Smyth’s or Crawford’s email to which Smyth was responding … the court and Smyth are unable to access the defamation claim.”

According to the former employees’ suits, the “workforce reduction” had not been planned before they went to the board Oct. 27 and no study in anticipation of a workforce reduction had been conducted. “Employees were provided no notice of a planned reduction-in-force.’”

Sinyard’s suit alleges Baker sought to terminate Morris and Baldwin, along with Sinyard and Crawford, to make the removals “‘look fair.’”