Backus lawsuit goes to trial Dec. 4

PARKERSBURG – A resident suing the city of Parkersburg over background checks says his court date has been moved, but the case will be heard this year.

Joe Backus filed suit in Wood County Circuit Court in 2012 accusing the city, Mayor Bob Newell and Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin of violating privacy laws and the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Backus also accused Newell of defamation and libel and is seeking $12 million in damages.

Backus recently told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel the case would go to trial in December. A clerk with the U.S. District Court Southern District of West Virginia in Parkersburg confirmed a trial date of Oct. 16 had been changed to Dec. 4.

The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin at the federal building at Fifth and Juliana streets in Parkersburg.

City attorney Joe Santer said he had not heard about the change in court date, but is not directly involved with the case.

“Our insurance would cover that claim, so there is a defense team provided by them,” Santer said.

The city and its officials are represented by Johnnie E. Brown and James Muldoon, members of the law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe PLLC of Charleston.

Newell said while he knew the case had been postponed, he had not been informed of the new trial date. Newell declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

In his suit, Backus alleges his rights were violated in January 2011 when city officials ran illegal background checks on him and others.

“I am looking forward to seeing Bob Newell and Joe Martin answer for their actions. I never did anything to warrant having two Triple I background checks conducted on me,” Backus said Monday in an email to The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

“It is stated in the West Virginia State Police Handbook that the Triple I background checks can only be conducted by law enforcement and can only be conducted when a person is under criminal investigation for wrongdoing. The City has already admitted that I was never under investigation when the Triple I checks were conducted on me,” Backus said.

Backus had been a vocal critic of Newell and had been part of a recall effort directed against the mayor. Backus said the mayor, while justifying the background checks, drew comparisons between Backus’ action and a shooting in Arizona.

“I am looking forward to seeing Bob Newell answer for the comparisons he made of me to Jared Loughner, the shooter and murderer of several people in Arizona, including former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords,” Backus said in his email. “This was all done though, mind you, when I was involved in the peaceful attempted recall of Bob Newell over the then proposed Parkersburg user fee.”

Backus unsuccessfully ran last November for Parkersburg City Council District 5.