Was Lawsuit Against Mayoral Candidate Politically Motivated?
The attorney representing former Kenly mayoral candidate Terry Ray Baker has filed a motion in Johnston County District Court asking the Kenly Police Chief and a female officer to pay his client’s legal fees.
Kenly Police Chief Josh Gibson and officer Rayne Biggs filed a lawsuit through attorney Leslie Jones in Garner against town resident Terry Ray Baker on September 25, 2017. The lawsuit, filed days after Baker announced his candidacy for mayor, contended Biggs, a female officer, received repeated unwanted and inappropriate Facebook messages from Baker dating back to 2016.
The suit also alleged in August 2017, Baker posted a statement on Facebook alleging Chief Gibson was dishonest and despite being married was having a sexual relationship with the female officer.
Baker lost his bid for election on November 7th. Two weeks later, on Nov. 22nd and without any notice, Chief Gibbs and Officer Biggs voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit without stating a reason.
Attorney Walter A. Schmidlin III with the law firm of Stewart, Schmidlin, Bullock & Lanier, PLLC in Smithfield represented Baker. On Oct. 3rd, 2017 Schmidlin filed paperwork with the courts seeking to have the case dismissed, saying the allegations against Baker were not true.
For example, Baker admitted to contacting Officer Biggs once in Nov. 2016 but not repeatedly as claimed.
Evidence was also presented showing a fictitious Facebook account was created by a person claiming to be Terry Baker and was used to discredit Baker and his campaign for Kenly mayor.
In the court motion filed last week, attorney Schmidlin is asking a court judge to force Chief Gibson and Officer Biggs to pay Baker’s legal fees.
In the motion, Schmidlin said he notified on Nov. 16, 2017 of a deposition hearing set for Nov. 30th. Schmidlin and Baker showed up for the hearing not knowing the plaintiffs attorney had voluntarily dismissed the case 8 days earlier on Nov. 22nd. Schmidlin said he nor his client were never notified of the lawsuit being dropped or the hearing being cancelled.
Schmidlin’s motion said Police Chief Gibson was a vocal supporter of Trinity Henderson who was elected to the Kenly Town Council in November. Henderson was a partner in the law firm of McWilliam, Henderson & Wall PLLC that later changed its name to Henderson & Wall, PLLC. Henderson & Wall, PLLC dissolved in May 2017. Henderson now owns Henderson Law Offices in Garner and Heyward Wall now owns Heyward Wall Law, PA in Garner.
Leslie Jones, the attorney for the police chief and officer Biggs, works for Heyward Wall Law, PA.
The motion contends Jones and Chief Gibson “participated in events including news coverage likely to influence public opinion… and influence the outcome of an election.” It cited articles ran by JoCoReport.com and the Kenly News.
The Jan. 8, 2018 court filing also contends Attorney Jones and her plaintiffs “…failed or refused to adequately respond to discovery requests in advance of the election held on 07 November 2017.”
Schmidlin said the plaintiffs dismissed the case 15 days after the election without engaging in meaningful discovery.
As of December 1, 2017, legal fees for Baker amounted to $5,166.75. Those fees continue to accumulate.
In seeking reimbursement for legal fees, the motion contends the lawsuit was not well grounded in fact, was absent of a judicial issue of either law or fact, and the combined actions of the plaintiffs have caused “immeasurable harm” to Baker. Baker lost the election for mayor receiving only 17 votes of a total of 238 votes cast.
A court date to hear the request for legal fees has not been set.