Leroy Schmidt offers to drop suit

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

A citizen suing Mayor E. Dana Dickens III for allegedly violating his civil rights has offered to drop the federal suit if the city lawmaker apologizes and picks up his legal tab.

Leroy Schmidt, a frequent and often critical speaker at city government meetings, claimed in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk last month that Dickens violated his rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable seizure at the Feb. 4 City Council meeting. That night, Dickens had police officers forcibly escort Schmidt from the speaker’s podium after he publicly criticized the mayor’s city expense account use.


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Schmidt’s attorney, Stephen Merrill of Norfolk, said he contacted Dickens’s attorney earlier this week with an offer to drop the suit if the mayor would publicly admit that Schmidt should not have been kicked out of the meeting. The offer also called for Dickens or the city to pay Schmidt’s estimated $1,500 legal bill.

&uot;We want a public acknowledgement that his eviction should not have happened,&uot; said Merrill. &uot;It can come from the mayor or the city council…and it can come in the form of a letter or announcement. I don’t care about the format.

&uot;We want Mr. Schmidt to be publicly exonerated. This has been an embarrassing situation for him.&uot;

Merrill said he advised Dickens’ counsel that his client would be willing to settle for $10,000 if Dickens did not wish to make the public exoneration.

Dickens’ attorney, Brian Wainger of McGuire Woods, refused to discuss any settlement offer.

&uot;We will look at all alternatives to litigation,&uot; Wainger said. &uot;But making a public apology is not being considered because Mayor Dickens did not do anything wrong.&uot;

The settlement offer was made just days after Wainger filed a motion to have the case dismissed. Schmidt’s allegations are &uot;factually and legally without merit,&uot; according to the April 14 motion.

Even if the charges were true, state law would give Dickens absolute privilege because maintaining &uot;proper decorum&uot; in a city government meeting is one of his official mayoral responsibilities, according to court document.

Neither Schmidt nor Dickens would comment, referring all questions to their respective lawyers.