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Federal judge grants summary judgment in lobbyist Webb’s lawsuit against West Virginia education officials

By Steven Allen Adams, Parkersburg News and Sentinel

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge ruled in part that a former state superintendent of schools and Department of Education officials retaliated against a lobbyist for his critical social media posts.

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver granted a motion Monday for summary judgment by lobbyist Jason Webb for two elements of count one that accused former state superintendent of schools Steve Paine and Jan Barth, an assistant superintendent of schools at the Department of Education, of retaliation against Webb’s First Amendment rights.

The next step for the case is a jury trial scheduled for Tuesday, March 30, at 9:30 a.m. to decide on the part of count III that claims there was a civil conspiracy by Paine and Barth to violate Webb’s First Amendment rights.

“We look forward to taking these claims to trial,” said J. Zak Ritchie, Webb’s attorney, in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Webb, the owner of government affairs firm Capitol Advocates and a lobbyist registered with the West Virginia Ethics Commission, filed suit on June 12, 2019, in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia. Webb accused Paine and Barth of using government power to intimidate him from exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.

Formerly under contract with college test-prep company ACT, Webb accused Paine and Barth of threatening ACT over Webb’s public comments, resulting in ACT dropping Webb as a lobbyist one month after Webb filed the lawsuit.

Webb was critical of Paine and the Department of Education on social media platforms after the department changed its stance on a student data bill that passed the West Virginia Legislature in 2017. …

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