PARKERSBURG - A federal judge has dismissed a Parkersburg man's lawsuit claiming the city, mayor and chief of police violated his constitutional rights with an illegal background check.
Joe Backus filed suit in Wood County Circuit Court in 2012 accusing the city, Mayor Bob Newell and police Chief Joe Martin of violating privacy laws and the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Backus also accused Newell of defamation and libel and was seeking $12 million in damages..
In a ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin ruled in favor of the defendants.
Goodwin said Backus could not "offer more than a scintilla of evidence in support of his argument" that his personal rights were violated when Newell asked for Martin to run a background check on him in January 2011 or that he was libeled when Newell contacted local media with concerns about coverage of Backus and tea party members.
Backus had been a vocal critic of Newell and had been part of a recall effort directed against the mayor. Backus said the mayor, while justifying the background checks, drew comparisons between concerns over Backus and the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in Arizona.
Backus unsuccessfully ran last November for Parkersburg City Council District 5.
On Wednesday, Backus said he would not be able to make a statement until he spoke with his lawyer. Backus said he had yet to hear the lawsuit had been dismissed, but added "if it was, it will be appealed."
Newell said Wednesday he was pleased to hear of the judge's ruling, but said the lawsuit represented a politically motivated attack on the city. Court documents show Backus was told about the background checks by former Wood County Commissioner Rick Modesitt who unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Newell in 2005.
According to court documents, Modesitt, a former chief of police in Parkersburg, asked for delays in giving a deposition on the Backus case and failed to show for a scheduled deposition in June. Modesitt also retained attorney John Triplett Jr., of Marietta, who was the lead lawyer on several Fraternal Order of Police lawsuits against the city that have been dismissed by the courts in recent years.
"It is a sad chapter in the city's history that we've had to deal with all of these politically motivated lawsuits in recent years," Newell said. "The taxpayers have close to $25,000 wrapped up in this nonsense. It's clearly political hay they were making, but it came at a cost to the taxpayers."