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Former treasurer Stamey sues county commission, others over suspension

By Michael Howell

Bitterroot Star publisher Michael Howell has again been named as a defendant in a lawsuit by former Ravalli County Treasurer Valerie Stamey asking for $20 million in punitive damages.

 

Stamey has filed suit in federal district court in Missoula alleging that the Ravalli County Commission, “acting under the color of law” and in collusion with a host of other individuals, deprived her of her legal property interest as Ravalli County Treasurer when they voted to suspend her from her position as Ravalli County Treasurer without pay on June 25, 2014. Attorney Robert Myers, who represents Stamey in the suit, argues that Stamey should have first been charged with official misconduct under Montana criminal codes before being suspended without pay. Although the county initiated civil proceedings against Stamey, she was never charged under criminal statutes.

 

Myers claims “there is no recognized civil action for official misconduct in Montana by which a Treasurer may be suspended from office.” He claims the County Commission (at the time) “acted outside of the laws of Montana in suspending the Plaintiff without pay violating her right to her position as protected to her under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

 

The commissioners named in the suit include present commissioners Greg Chilcott and Jeff Burrows and former commissioners J.R. Iman and Suzy Foss. Chilcott, Iman, and Burrows are singled out for acting “with actual evil intent and malice.” These three are being charged in their official capacity and in their personal capacity. Foss, on the other hand, is only being charged in her official capacity.

 

Others named in the lawsuit include County Attorney Bill Fulbright, County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg, former County Sheriff Chris Hoffman, and former tax officials and tax office employees Linda Isaacs, Mary Borden, Joanne Johnson, Bonnie Dugan, County CFO Klarysse Murphy, and employee Jana Exner, former Justice Court Clerk Charlene Hanson, and Bitterroot Star publisher Michael Howell. (Editor’s note: Many of the names of the people listed in Stamey’s complaint were spelled incorrectly.)

 

Other than Foss and Plettenberg, who were only sued in their official capacities, and Chilcott, Iman, Burrows and County Attorney Fulbright, who were sued in both capacities, all other defendants are being sued only in their individual capacity.

 

The complaint alleges a history of legal infractions in the county’s tax and finance offices and then claims that Chilcott, Iman, Burrows and Fulbright “orchestrated a cover up investigation” when they hired former Judge Nels Swandal and Jim Woy of the accounting firm Anderson ZurMuehlen.

 

Swandal investigated Stamey’s claims about the commissioners and found nothing to support her accusations.

 

Woy found that no money was missing but close to a million dollars in undeposited cash and checks was found stashed in envelopes and boxes in her office after she was suspended. In his status report, Woy stated that it was apparent the duties of the Ravalli County treasurer had not been properly executed and the treasurer’s office was in disarray.

 

Stamey sued Woy and his firm for libel, claiming that Woy’s statement exposed her to “hatred, contempt, ridicule, obloquy” and caused her to be shunned and avoided. She asked for $10 million in punitive damages. The case was dismissed.

 

The commissioners ultimately filed civil charges against Stamey, alleging 58 instances of failure to perform her official duties and fined her $29,000 but it took them a few years to serve the papers on Stamey who had moved to South Carolina. Stamey was eventually found guilty of the charges by default when she did not show up for trial.

 

In her current lawsuit, Stamey not only alleges that the three commissioners acted “with malice and evil intent,” but nine of the other defendants are accused of “conspiring with malice and evil intent” with the commissioners as well.

 

Stamey blames CFO Klarysse Murphy for conspiring with the commissioners and Fulbright by keeping Stamey from doing her job as Treasurer.

 

“This illegal prevention by Karlyse (sic) Murphy was then used to create a false scheme” enabling the other defendants to concoct a “communications campaign” against Stamey.

 

“This campaign was necessary to provide the template upon which Commissioners Chilcott and Iman could remove the Plaintiff from office and defeat her efforts to be reelected,” it states in the lawsuit.

 

Bitterroot Star publisher Michael Howell is referred to as “the press lynch pin in this false effort.” He “coordinated with the other defendants to make a news story of the false claims,” states the lawsuit.

 

Former treasurer and deputy treasurer Joanne Johnson is accused of quitting her job in the tax office “having not done the required reconciliation and departmental reports.”

 

Exner is accused of assisting Murphy “in sabotage of the Plaintiff’s responsibilities” as well.

 

Although it was noted that County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg “did not know that the facts surrounding the suspension of the Plaintiff were false,” nonetheless she “did nothing to protect the Plaintiff,” ignoring the alleged federal violations involved.

 

Stamey is seeking compensatory damages from all the parties involved who acted with “malice and evil intent” for loss of economic opportunity resulting from their actions in the amount of $240,000 plus attorney fees. Punitive damages of $20 million are also being sought against all individuals named to be acting with malice and evil intent.

 

Stamey has previously sued Michael and Victoria Howell and the Bitterroot Star in federal court for libel and seeking $8 million in damages in that case, which is still pending

One Response to Former treasurer Stamey sues county commission, others over suspension
  1. Sarah Sexton
    July 14, 2017 | 4:27 pm

    It seems this story will never end. This is what happens when someone is placed in a position for which they are woefully unqualified. Perhaps she is more qualified for a position in the Trump White House.

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