Couple sues fire company Manchester mayor, wife call dismissals unconstitutional

December 13, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

In Sunday's Carroll edition, the headline on a story about a lawsuit filed by Earl A. J. and Marianne Warehime Jr. was incorrect. The Warehimes sued nine individuals who are members of the Manchester volunteer fire company. They did not sue the fire company.

* The Sun regrets the error.

After their daughter and the daughter of another member were found throwing pies at each other during the fire company's annual carnival this spring, Manchester's first couple found themselves all but booted from the Manchester Fire Engine and Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1.

Manchester Mayor Earl A. J. "Tim" Warehime Jr. has been a member of the town's volunteer fire company for nearly three decades. His wife, Marianne, has belonged for almost 20 years.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

They weren't about to step aside without a protest.

On Friday, the couple filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the company's president and disciplinary committee, claiming that Mrs. Warehime's suspension from the company and Mr. Warehime's removal from the office of ambulance captain were unconstitutional.

"This is an example of small-town totalitarianism," said Judith S. Stainbrook, the couple's attorney.

The 12-count suit claims that the couple's due process rights of property and liberty under the constitutions of the United States and Maryland were violated by the nine defendants when they voted -- behind closed doors and against the company's own by-laws -- to take action against the Warehimes.

The suit says the pie-throwing incident was used as an excuse to get at the Warehimes, who were responsible for the growing importance of the company's ambulance division.

"Beginning in January, 1992, defendant [Fire Company President Richard A.] Dell began to display a hostile attitude toward the [Warehimes], claiming that the company was divided between the fire people and the ambulance people and that this was the [Warehimes'] fault," the suit says.

In addition to Mr. Dell, named as defendants in the suit are Steven Miller, Ralph Dull, Eugene Blake Lippy, Brian Graf, Clay Black, Gary Eppley, William S. Black Sr. and William S. Black Jr. Phone calls to all defendants and to fire company attorney Wesley D. Blakeslee were unreturned Friday afternoon.

Mrs. Warehime -- who had been secretary of the fire company for the past 11 years -- has ridden with the ambulance and, for five months, underwent training to become a state-licensed cardiac rescue technician. Mr. Warehime is credited with creating the ambulance unit in June 1991.

"I can't believe that these two people would be suspended over something as silly as a pie fight," Ms. Stainbrook said Friday. "I think there is no valid reason to treat the Warehimes, who have given their time selflessly to the fire company for decades, in this manner."

Mrs. Warehime, in an attempt to narrow the widening gap between the company's two divisions, met with Mr. Dell, the suit says.

"This proved fruitless," the suit says, "because in March 1992, Mr. Dell told her that some day she would know what it was like to be scrutinized all of the time."

According to the lawsuit, the Warehimes' daughter, Suzannah, was throwing pies with another girl on the evening of June 30. Mrs. Warehime was working at the carnival that night, and, after Suzannah told her mother that Mr. Dell and Mr. Miller wanted to see them, Mrs. Warehime found herself accused of encouraging the pie fight.

That night, despite Suzannah's claims that her mother had nothing to do with the pie-throwing, the fire company's executive and disciplinary committees met and approved a motion -- made by Mr. Black Sr. -- suspending Mrs. Warehime from the company for a year and suspending her from holding office for three years. Mrs. Warehime has protested the decision, but the committee has refused to reconsider.

Several days later, Mr. Warehime called a meeting of the executive and disciplinary committees, where the incident was again discussed, but no further action was taken.

On July 4, a general membership meeting was called by Mr. Dell. At that meeting, he read a prepared statement about what had happened over the previous four days, but the membership was not allowed to vote on Mrs. Warehime's suspension.

On July 10, another meeting of the executive and disciplinary committees was called, but Mr. Warehime -- a member of both committees -- was not allowed to attend.

They then scheduled yet another meeting for July 27, when Mrs. Warehime and her lawyer -- Ms. Stainbrook's partner, Stephen P. Bourexis -- were allowed to present their story. Mr. Warehime was barred from attending.

After Mrs. Warehime and her lawyer left the meeting, the executive and disciplinary committees called Mr. Warehime at home, summoned him to the fire hall and presented him with a letter requesting that he resign from his post as ambulance captain. He declined.

At an Aug. 4 general membership meeting, Mr. Warehime and Mr. Bourexis were prepared to answer the resignation request, but they were told that the topic would not be discussed. They left the meeting.

The next day, they learned that the resignation was discussed extensively, and, two days later, Mr. Warehime received a certified letter telling him that he had been removed from office.

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