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Judge dismisses defamation suit filed against former Portsmouth Mayor by former Porstmouth City Attorney

A Norfolk Circuit Court judge wrote he views the case as a "mischaracterization of legal advice" that "lacks defamatory sting."

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Everett Martin started an explanation of his court order by writing death and taxes aren't the only guarantees in life.

"There is, after all, a third certainty in life: acrimony among public officials in Portsmouth will find its way into the press," Martin wrote. "Of late, it also finds its way across the Elizabeth River into this court."

Judge Martin dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against former Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe by former Portsmouth City Attorney Solomon Ashby, saying the case is a "mischaracterization of legal advice" that "lacks defamatory sting."

Ashby filed the defamation suit in October, saying Rowe's comments to 13News Now after Portsmouth City Council fired Ashby damaged his reputation.

In a September interview, Mayor Rowe said Ashby gave "unbalanced advice" that city council members "can't fire the city manager." Rowe was referencing a letter Ashby sent to council members in which Ashby warned of possible misdemeanor charges.

Judge Martin dismissed the case with prejudice, but Ashby and his attorney Christian Connell have until April 16 to file an amended complaint.

“As any lawyer would be on behalf of his client I’m disappointed, though I understand," Connell told 13News Now on Thursday. "I read the judge’s opinion and it’s very well-thought-out and well-reasoned. 

Connell said he and Ashby will decide whether to pursue this case further.

"Mr. Ashby feels like his history with the city was tarnished at the end of his career with the city," Connell said.

Rowe’s lawyer declined to comment on the judge’s order.

Portsmouth City Council fired Ashby after former city manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton resigned amid pressure for placing former police Chief Angela Greene on administrative leave. Last month, Portsmouth leaders named Angel Jones the new city manager.

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