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Parkersburg’s insurer hires attorneys for prayer suit

PARKERSBURG — Two Charleston attorneys will represent the City of Parkersburg in a lawsuit over the practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer at City Council meetings.

The city’s insurer, OneBeacon, engaged attorneys Tim Mayo and Ray Harrell Jr., with the law firm of Flaherty, Sensabaugh and Bonasso, to defend the city in the suit, Parkersburg City Attorney Joe Santer said.

The suit was filed July 31 by city residents Daryl Cobranchi and Eric Engle and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, claiming the saying of the specifically Christian prayer at meetings — although technically before the meeting is in session — violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The only cost the city anticipates at this point is its insurance deductible, Santer said. The deductible amount was not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.

Cobranchi and Engle are seeking just $1 each in damages, although Santer noted if the plaintiffs’ prevail, the city could be ordered to pay attorneys’ fees.

Mayo declined to discuss the case Wednesday, deferring to the response that will be filed on the city’s behalf.

The suit requested a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city, its officers and agents “from initiating or delivering sectarian prayers at meetings of the Parkersburg City Council.” An order filed Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. directs the defense to respond to the motion within 20 days.

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