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Judge: Council Prez Off the Hook

Kathy Graziano dismissed from civil suit, but City Hall scandal moves on.



First it was the city. And today it was City Council President Kathy Graziano. Both have now been dismissed from the ongoing civil lawsuit filed by Jennifer Walle, former public aide to City Councilman Bruce Tyler.

Walle’s lawsuit, stemming from her claim that Graziano’s aide, David Hathcock, grabbed her buttocks and attempted to kiss her in her 3rd floor City Hall office in April 2010, claimed that Graziano, the city of Richmond and Hathcock intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Walle following the incident. All three emotional distress claims have now been dismissed.

Hathcock, however, still faces a civil battery claim in the lawsuit. A trial date hasn’t been set.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Richard Taylor dropped Graziano from the suit Wednesday afternoon, following several hours of witness testimony by a litany of city officials, including Councilmen Tyler and Marty Jewell.

Taylor extended Graziano the benefit of “sovereign immunity,” a legal doctrine that protects governments and their officials from being sued for acting in their official capacity. The decision brings close to closure a scandal that has dogged City Hall since January.

In a judgment read from the bench, he cited the “overwhelming” evidence indicating that Graziano had acted appropriately and in accordance with her duties in her handling of Walle’s verbal complaint against Graziano’s recently retired aide, David Hathcock. Walle’s EEOC complaints against Graziano, Hathcock and the city, however, have yet to be resolved.

Walle has lobbed a number of charges against Graziano, including accusing her retaliation following the airing of the original allegations against Hathcock, and of creating a hostile work environment.

But after extensive testimony, Taylor said that Walle’s camp was “overreaching” in its claim that Graziano intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Walle. Accusations that Graziano had attempted to persuade Walle to file an official complaint against Tyler, her former boss, were unfounded, Taylor said.

“Sovereign immunity is tough,” said Walle’s attorney Hayden Fisher after the ruling. Walle, Fisher and members of her family quickly exited the courtroom following the judge’s ruling.

For Graziano, the victory seems unequivocal. Standing with a wry smile, she initially refused comment -- payback for Style’s prior coverage of the scandal, she suggested -- before finally relenting outside the John Marshall Courts Building.

“For eight months, I have been the target of character assassination by bizarre and untrue accusations,” she said in brief statement. “I am glad to put this behind me and get on with my life. I trust the City Council will now get on with the business of governing without these distractions.”

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