Ruling ends legal dispute between Mike Scanlon, Jacques Wigginton

jkegley@herald-leader.comDecember 21, 2012 

A nearly decade-old Lexington legal dispute between former Urban County Councilman Jacques Wigginton and former Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon has come to an end.

In October, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scanlon and upheld the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed by Wigginton in 2004. Scanlon's attorney said Friday she thinks the deadline for any further appeals or filings has passed.

"After a very tortured history lasting nearly a decade, this has finally ended," attorney Barbara Edelman said. "And we are grateful."

The dispute began after Scanlon was elected as vice-mayor in 2002, before he took office.

In December 2002 and January 2003, Scanlon publicly spoke about allegations that Wigginton violated travel procedure, misused travel funds and sexually harassed a city employee. Scanlon asked the city's Ethics Commission to look into the allegations; ultimately the commission found no wrongdoing.

Subsequently, Wigginton sued Scanlon in January 2004. The lawsuit alleged that Scanlon spread false and defamatory statements about Wigginton.

However, courts that reviewed the lawsuit over the next eight years noted that Scanlon's statements did not amount to defamation in part because he did not make them up; concerns had been raised by others before Scanlon took office.

Wigginton said Friday he had no plans to take the lawsuit further. "The issue of time has rendered it moot," he said.

Starting in early 2002, Wigginton failed to submit receipts and expense reports in a timely manner for trips paid for by the city; failed to reimburse the city for travel funds, leading to a garnishment of his wages; and tried to bill a trip to the city despite having lost travel advance privileges, according to court documents.

The sexual harassment complaint, which was determined to be baseless, stemmed from statements by a former city employee, Shaunee Lynch, the October appeals court ruling said. Lynch told colleagues that Wigginton had "done 'something' that 'made her uncomfortable,'" but Lynch repeatedly refused to tell anyone what it was, the document said.

[ EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was published on Dec. 21, 2012. The following three paragraphs were added to the story on Feb. 13, 2013. ]

However, Lynch said in a phone interview that she never made a sexual harassment allegation against Wigginton. She said she was ordered to work for Wigginton after two of his legislative aids quit due to stress.

"I said, 'I'm not working for him. I'm just not. I feel uncomfortable working for him because two legislative aids have left,'" she said. When human resources asked her what she meant by "uncomfortable," she said she told them, "There's no way I'm going to get in that position and be successful in it."

Her statement snowballed and got twisted due to behind-the-scenes politics, she said. She lamented that no attorneys contacted her to clarify the statement as the case went through Fayette Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals because "the result of this lawsuit might have been different."

[ End of information added Feb. 13, 2013. -- ed. ]

Wigginton denied wrongdoing. He has said the travel discrepancies were the result of miscommunication. All funds were reimbursed.

Scanlon and Wigginton both left office in 2006, but the case has continued through Fayette Circuit Court, the Kentucky Court of Appeals and the Kentucky Supreme Court. It seemingly was propelled by both sides' hoping to set a legal precedent.

Wigginton said he hoped to make it harder for politicians to make defaming statements for political gain; Scanlon said he hoped the lawsuit would encourage government employees to vet concerns about colleagues without fearing legal retribution.

Scanlon said Friday the appeals court's final ruling in his favor was "vindication."

"I see it as encouragement for public officials to speak up when they see something wrong," he said. "This court action establishes once again that it's safe to do the right thing."

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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