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Lawsuit alleges Marple fired for not supporting no-bid contracts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State schools Superintendent Jorea Marple was fired two weeks ago for refusing to support no-bid contracts and contracts tied to state Board of Education members, according to lawyers suing the state board.

Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, made the allegations Friday in a brief filed with state Supreme Court.

The firm is suing the board for violating the Open Meetings Act when it originally fired Marple two weeks ago. The lawsuit, initially filed last week, is on the behalf of parents of a student in Boone County.

The new document filed Friday does not elaborate on what contracts might have played a role or which board members are believed to have interest in these contracts. Board of Education President Wade Linger did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

"It is believed that the state Superintendent's refusal to support certain no-bid contracts and contracts in which certain Board members have an interest is the true reason for her termination," the court filing said.

The firm filed the document to supplement its lawsuit filed last week. The new filing comes as a direct result of the board re-firing Marple on Thursday amid concerns they fired her illegally the first time around.  

On Nov. 15 the board voted to fire Marple as state superintendent. Several days later, the firm filed suit in the state Supreme Court accusing the board of knowingly violating the Open Meetings Act when it fired Marple.

Theresa Kirk, head of the state Ethics Commission, previously told the Daily Mail public board's generally can't add something to a meeting agenda in the middle of a meeting. However, she also pointed to a 2005 opinion of the commission that states a board can make up for any non-intentional mistake if the board takes "reasonable remedial measures over and above ceremonial and perfunctory ratification" of the original action.

The board met again Thursday to discuss Marple's standing, and eventually voted to fire her again. After the vote, Linger listed some of the reasons he thought she should be fired, and said he hoped the meeting had cleared up some concerns about board transparency.

Mountain State jumped on some of those statements to make its argument about why Marple was fired.

"The state reason (by the board) for the superintendent's termination is clearly pretext for some other illegitimate reason," the brief states.

The allegations involving contracts are included in a footnote following that statement.  

The brief also argues the board knowingly and willing violated the Open Meetings Act, making the measures outlined in the Ethics Commission opinion moot.

If the court did decide the opinion applied, the brief states the meeting was "perfunctory." 

"By placing items on the agenda that necessarily presupposed the termination of the superintendent, the remedial measures of the board amounted to nothing more than a dog and pony show intended to ceremonially ratify its violation from the November 15th meeting," the brief states.

In addition to discussing Marple's termination, the agenda for Thursday's meeting included the consideration of hiring a new superintendent and the "oath of office." The firm references these points in its brief.

The state Supreme Court gave the board until today to respond to Mountain State's suit. The board planned to respond sometime this afternoon, according to a department spokesperson.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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