The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 21, 2012

Supreme Court asked to void Marple's firing

Associated Press

CHARLESTON — The parents of a special-needs child asked the West Virginia Supreme Court on Wednesday to declare the firing of former Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple void, calling it an ambush termination that violated the state’s open meetings law.

Mountain State Justice filed an emergency petition with the court on behalf of James Hicks and Michelle Hicks, whose child is a fourth-grader at Brookview Elementary in Foster.

The petition asked the court to temporarily block the West Virginia Board of Education from naming a new superintendent until a hearing is held and to temporarily reinstate Marple.

Board members voted 5-2 last Thursday to fire Marple, whom they appointed to the $165,000-a-year post in March 2011. The recommendation to fire Marple was not specifically listed on the board’s agenda, although other personnel actions were outlined.

“Had the Petitioners and other citizens been notified and aware of certain Board members intention to act on the Superintendent’s position, they and other citizens would have wanted to attend the meeting,” the petition states.

The petition also claims that Marple’s firing was predetermined in discussions held outside regular meetings.

No justification for the decision was given and Marple was not fired for cause, the petition said.

“The Superintendent’s termination was predetermined in back-room, secret meetings among certain Board members in clear violation of West Virginia’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act,” the petition stated.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro declined to comment on the petition because it’s pending litigation.

The Charleston Daily Mail reported Wednesday morning that the suit also alleges board President Wade Linger went ahead with the "ambush termination" of Marple against the advice of his own legal counsel, a reference the 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 suit 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.

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. Some question whether the board's action violated that law.