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St. Paul woman sues attorney over lawsuit against council

June 19th, 2007 12:00 am by Matthew Lane

NORTON - A St. Paul woman claims a Norton attorney used her name without permission in a lawsuit against four members of the St. Paul Town Council.

Dena Jessee filed a $2.85 million lawsuit in Wise County Circuit Court on Friday naming Hugh O'Donnell as the defendant. Jessee makes five claims against O'Donnell including breach of implied contract, unauthorized use of name, defamation and fraud.

According to the lawsuit, when the St. Paul Town Council turned down O'Donnell's application for town attorney, he conspired with others to solicit names of people to use as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against four members of the Town Council.

St. Paul attorney Frank Kilgore represents Jessee and said O'Donnell used the names of Jessee and St. Paul resident Nina Powers as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Town Council members Jim Short, Blake Whitenack, Steve Stewart and Harry Kelly on Sept. 21, 2006. Kilgore claims O'Donnell distributed the lawsuit to several news organizations in the St. Paul area, including the Times-News and WCYB-TV.

This lawsuit accused the four councilmen of conspiring to rework the government of St. Paul to exclude other elected officials from meaningful participation in governmental activities and violating Virginia's open meetings law.

"O'Donnell intended to maximize the harm and injury to the four St. Paul Town councilmen by accusing them of inappropriate and illegal actions in their capacities as public officials," the lawsuit states. "

Kilgore said Jessee and Powers have never met and do not know O'Donnell, adding he apparently got their names from a third party - the wife of a candidate who lost in the 2006 St. Paul Town Council election.

Under oath, this "third person" has testified in depositions that O'Donnell admitted to her that he had never met Jessee or talked with her and did not have her consent to file the lawsuit in her name.

Kilgore said after a few hearings were held, Jessee was removed from the lawsuit, and last week the judge dismissed the entire lawsuit and gave O'Donnell 15 days to file an amended complaint. As of Monday, an amended complaint had not been filed.

As a result of O'Donnell's negligent, unethical and fraudulent actions, Jessee has been defamed, her privacy invaded and her relationships with the four councilmen imperiled, the lawsuit alleges.

O'Donnell could not be reached for comment.

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