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Lawsuit alleges Marple was fired illegally and against advice of counsel

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Board of Education fired state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple illegally and against the advice of its own attorney, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.

The emergency petition wants the state Supreme Court to reverse Marple's abrupt termination. Charleston-based public interest law firm Mountain State Justice filed the action Wednesday morning at the state Supreme Court.

It seeks to temporarily return Marple to her job. The education board fired her last Thursday in a 5-2 vote.

The lawsuit alleges members of the board plotted in secret prior to last week's meeting. The decision was "predetermined in back-room, secret meetings among certain Board members in clear violation" of the state's open meeting laws.

It is not clear what forms the basis of these assertions.

The lawsuit also alleges board President Wade Linger went ahead with the "ambush termination" of Marple against the advice of his own legal counsel, a reference to Department of Education General Counsel Heather Deskins.

"Advised by counsel that the board should not take official action without proper notice of the meeting, the Board President (Linger) responded that he would take his chances," the lawsuit alleges.

Linger declined to comment Wednesday morning on the specific allegation. He said he had been advised by counsel not to comment on a specific lawsuit in progress.

"I've been advised by counsel - that's all I'm going to say," Linger said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Supreme Court ordered the Board of Education to respond to the lawsuit by Nov. 30.

The point of the lawsuit may be moot by then: The board is meeting on Nov. 29 to re-fire Marple. That redo is an apparent concession the board was on shaky legal ground the first time it fired her. Presumably, the board will seek to comply with open meetings laws when it acts this time. 

The decision to fire Marple was not listed on last week's meeting agenda, and Marple said she had no idea she was going to be fired until moments before the vote.

State law requires advance notice of such actions except in cases of emergencies that endanger public safety or the state's coffers.

The fallout from Marple's firing has been far ranging.

Tuesday night, Marple supporters rallied in Charleston to demand an explanation for her firing and to call on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to remove five members from the state Board of Education, including former first lady Gayle Manchin.

Some, including the West Virginia Education Association, have blamed Marple's firing on a political faction tied to Manchin and her husband, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.

Gayle Manchin has denied political motives.

One of the three Mountain State Justice lawyers who filed the suit is Dan Hedges. Hedges was once married to Attorney General Darrell McGraw's top aide, Fran Hughes. McGraw is married to Marple.

Hedges is the lawyer whose class-action lawsuit on behalf of Lincoln County students caused the landmark 1982 Recht Decision that ruled state schools must be equitably funded.

Wednesday's suit was filed on behalf of James and Michelle Hicks, the parents of a fourth-grader with special needs in Boone County.

Staff writer David Boucher contributed reporting to this article.

Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.rivard@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryrivard.

 


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