Former assistant attorney general sues Ken Cuccinelli over firing

August 5, 2013

An ex-assistant attorney general in Ken Cuccinelli II’s office is suing her former boss, claiming he fired her inappropriately after she was suspected of posting unflattering comments about him on a Washington Post blog.

In a lawsuit filed late last week in federal district court in Virginia, Samantha Vanterpool claims that Cuccinelli fired her about a month after comments appeared online that called the attorney general and Virginia gubernatorial candidate an “egomaniac” who was “NEVER in the AG’s office and solely uses the position for self promotion.” The comments — posted anonymously by the user “bzbzsammy” — came in response to a May 2012 Washington Post blog about Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s criticism of Cuccinelli’s planned trip to Iowa.

Richard Patrick, Vanterpool’s lawyer, said officials in the attorney general’s office told Vanterpool as they moved to fire her that they suspected she had posted the comment as “bzbzsammy.” He said they also gave her a copy of the office’s media policy, which prohibits attorney general staffers from talking to reporters without permission.

In her suit, Vanterpool argues that even if she did post the comment, that was not the same as talking with a reporter. The suit — which names Cuccinelli and his former chief deputy Charles E. James Jr. as defendants — claims she was unfairly retaliated against for exercising her free speech rights and asks that she be reinstated and awarded damages and back pay.

Brian Gottstein, a Cuccinelli spokesman, said in a statement: “The attorney general and his former chief deputy are passionate supporters of the First Amendment, and any suggestion by a disgruntled former employee to the contrary is patently absurd.”

The suit says James left the office shortly after Vanterpool was fired in June 2012. In an email, James said that as chief deputy attorney general he was “called on to make the final decisions on multiple personnel issues, and the circumstances surrounding Ms. Vanterpool’s resignation from the office were no exception.”

“At no time did I or anyone else in the office violate Ms. Vanterpool’s First Amendment rights,” he said in the email.

Patrick declined to say whether Vanterpool — who worked for the attorney general’s office for about six years — had posted the comment. Since she was fired, Vanterpool, of Annandale, has not been able to get another job, he said.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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