DOBSON — The target of a voter registration challenge is threatening a lawsuit for damages, even though the local GOP paid the tab for his attorney’s fees.
A letter from the attorney of Mark Jones, Surry County Republican Party chairman, accompanied by a yet-to-be filed defamation of character complaint, claims Mount Airy resident Diana Gwyn owes damages as a result of Gwyn’s challenge questioning Jones’ residency.
In March, Jones was elected as the local party’s chair at the party’s annual convention.
Less than a month later, Gwyn filed a challenge claiming that Jones didn’t live at the location at which he was registered to vote — the Beechnut Family Campground, where he leased a lot on which he parked a camper.
Gwyn claimed Jones actually resided in Virginia on property owned by his parents.
Jones presented evidence such as a lease agreement for the space at the campground. He testified that his vehicles were registered in Surry County and that the camper was a temporary living situation while he sold his property in Craven County, where he had lived prior to moving to Surry County.
Jones’ supervisor at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission testified that Jones had been planning to move to Surry County since as early as 2010. He had sought and received the commission’s permission for the move.
Gwyn’s complaint was unanimously dismissed by the Surry County Board of Elections after a formal hearing in May.
However, a letter from Jones’ attorney, Brian LiVecchi, to Gwyn indicates the matter may not be over.
“As you know, Miller Law Firm represents Mr. Mark Jones in conjunction with his legal claims against you,” states the letter, dated June 30. “On June 1, 2017, I sent you a letter demanding that you compensate Mr. Jones for the damages you have caused and immediately cease and desist from further unlawful conduct. You have done neither.”
After noting a complaint was enclosed which would be filed in Surry County Superior Court on July 7, LiVecchi went on to say, “These are very serious matters, and your continued refusal to acknowledge them will not make them go away.”
As of Tuesday morning, the complaint had not been filed with the Surry County Clerk of Court.
When Gwyn filed her challenge, Jones noted he believed others were behind the challenge, and at the hearing LiVecchi questioned Gwyn as to who she had spoken to prior to filing the complaint.
Gwyn testified that she had spoken to a number of people, including two county commissioners and other public officials, prior to filing her complaint. However, she said none of them encouraged her to file a challenge.
Jones’ not-yet-filed complaint alleges Gwyn arranged a series of actions by county government employees targeting Jones.
In the complaint, LiVecchi argues that in mid-April a Surry County Fire Marshal vehicle showed up at the campground twice. Once, it left the area when it encountered the campground’s owner. Another time, the campground owner viewed two people in the fire marshal truck. One had a camera on his lap.
“The vehicle was in the campground area, which is not regulated or monitored by the county fire marshal, and in the vicinity of Jones’ camper,” the complaint alleges. “Upon information and belief, Gwyn arranged or caused to be arranged this misuse of county resources for the purpose of furthering her campaign to unseat, intimidate and persecute Jones.”
The complaint also alleges that Gwyn “arranged or caused to be arranged” inquiries regarding Jones’ employment with the state.
At the hearing Jones’ supervisor testified that the commission had received a legislative inquiry regarding Jones’ employment and the state-owned vehicle assigned to him.
Public records indicate that the inquiry originated from the office of N.C. Rep. Sarah Stevens.
Stevens said she made the inquiry after a citizen of her legislative district contacted her office regarding the presence of the state truck at the campground.
“This inquiry resulted in additional stress and mental anguish for Jones, as this inquiry was brought to the attention of supervisors two and three levels above Jones, and he feared that he may lose his employment as a result of this intermeddling in his personal affairs and unfounded insinuations and allegations of misconduct on his part,” the document reads.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that a similar inquiry was filed with the state auditor’s office. Three auditors were sent to the commission to interview Jones’ supervisors.
The complaint also claims Gwyn visited the campground and Jones’ parents’ property in Sugar Grove, Virginia, where she claimed Jones and his family actually resided.
Gwyn had testified that she had made multiple trips to the campground and a trip to Virginia during her efforts to investigate the matter.
“Since the institution of proceedings against him, Jones has suffered considerable mental anguish, financial hardship and public ridicule,” claims the complaint.
“The conduct of Gwyn and her confederates have caused Jones’ wife and children to experience extreme anxiety and fear, which, in turn, has caused Jones to suffer mental distress from observing his wife’s and children’s troubled mental and emotional states.”
“Jones himself has experienced considerable anxiety and anguish over the prospect of losing his employment and/or future career advancement opportunities as a result of the numerous efforts to impute fraudulent or deceitful conduct to him before his employer.”
Throughout the document, there are references to others who consorted with Gwyn, but nobody else is named in the document.
It claims that Jones has feared for his safety and that of his family and calls Gwyn’s actions a “campaign of public character assassination.”
In addition to the formal proceedings before the board of elections, it also alleges Gwyn made a number of defamatory remarks about Jones on her Facebook page, calling him a “liar” and claiming he committed “voter fraud,” a felony.
It claims Jones suffers from “anxiety, depression and fear and other severe and disabling mental and emotional conditions generally recognized and diagnosed by mental health professionals.”
If filed, the complaint would seek in excess of $25,000 in damages, plus court costs and attorney’s fees.
While any level of mental anguish suffered by Jones might not be determined until such time as a jury trial is held on the matter if the suit is filed, other documents note that the financial burden of the hearing did not fall on Jones.
While Jones hired LiVecchi to represent him, campaign finance records indicate the funds for representing Jones eventually came from the Surry County Republican Executive Committee.
The party’s semi-annual campaign fiance report, which was filed in July, notes that the party cut a check to Jones for $2,700 for “Legal fees for defence [sic] of county chairman.”
The party’s overall expenses for the period of time covered by the report — Jan. 1 through June 30 — were $8,672.21, and the party received $459 in contributions during the same period of time.
According to the report, the local GOP had $14,547.54 cash on hand at the end of the filing period.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.