Lawsuit costs Parkersburg $25K

Local politics at its worst … and the city of Parkersburg is out nearly $25,000 because of it.

Joe Backus, a longtime opponent of Mayor Bob Newell who attempted to get Newell recalled and who was an unsuccessful candidate for city council, filed a $12 million lawsuit against the mayor, the city and police Chief Joe Martin after Backus learned background checks had been run on him during the ill-fated recall petition drive.

Backus contended the city violated his right to privacy and the First, Fourth and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in checking his background.

According to a deposition of Backus, the information about the city doing the background checks came from Rick Modesitt, a former Wood County commissioner who was defeated for Parkersburg mayor by Jimmy Colombo and by Newell. Backus, in the deposition, testified Modesitt, a former Parkersburg police chief, got the background check information from a source in the police department.

That source was not named and Modesitt managed to avoid giving a deposition in the case before it was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin.

If the information came from the police department, that employee should have faced administrative charges for divulging confidential information. Many close to the investigation have strong opinions as to who “leaked” the information and wonder what other confidential information may have been “leaked” by the source.

It all goes back, though, to there being no love lost by Modesitt for Newell, which might well be one of the understatements of the century.

Backus had charged in his suit that Newell ordered the police background checks and libeled him in email communications pertaining to why the background checks were done. Backus maintained the mayor justified the background checks by drawing comparisons between concerns over Backus and the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in Arizona.

The case being dismissed should be of no surprise, just as it should be no surprise that Backus has vowed to appeal the judge’s summary judgment dismissal of the case. Backus has written “if my case was dismissed, that will not be the end of it. There will be further action.”

Backus for years has criticized the mayor on websites for what Backus repeatedly has termed illegal background checks made on him, and it should not surprise anyone if those written attacks continue.

Newell has said he intends to talk with the city attorney to determine if the city might be able to recoup part or all of the money paid out in defending itself against Backus’ lawsuit, which the judge viewed as having no evidence to support. While it would seem unlikely the city could gain reimbursement for its defense, such an action might have a dampening affect on those who file frivolous lawsuits … and that could save the taxpayers thousands of dollars in the future.

In the short-term, though, how Backus could have thought he had anything more than a politically motivated case against the city, Newell and Martin continues to baffle me.

Contact Jim Smith at jsmith@newsandsentinel.com