UPDATE: Falmouth claims pornography a factor in response to former employee's lawsuit

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FALMOUTH — In response to a lawsuit that alleges wrongful termination, an attorney for the town on Tuesday claimed the former code enforcement officer was fired for, among other things, viewing online pornography.

In the lawsuit filed Sept. 6, longtime Code Enforcement Officer Albert Farris Jr., 64, of Brunswick, claims he was deprived of his right to be heard by an impartial tribunal and that his constitutional rights were violated when he was fired a year ago. He is suing the town in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Farris is seeking punitive monetary damages and attorney’s fees for the alleged “pecuniary loss, damage to his reputation, emotional distress and other damages,” according to court documents filed in Portland.

Farris was the town’s code enforcement officer for nine years. Town Manager Nathan Poore, who is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Community Development Director Amanda Stearns, worked with Farris from 2006 to 2010.

Farris claims Poore and Stearns “regularly attempted to interfere with (Farris) in the exercise of his statutory duties,” and directed him to “make unlawful Code Enforcement decisions, rescind lawful decisions, and ignore the appeal provisions of the Falmouth Zoning Ordinance to enhance their authority … .”

Farris’ attorney, James Clifford, said neither Poore or Stearns had the authority to fire Farris, and that the decision should have been made by the Town Council.

“Not only was the termination wrong, but they didn’t have the authority to do it,” Clifford said. “This was a personality conflict that escalated to a termination.”

Clifford said Farris refused a severance package when he was terminated, but would not say what the package contained.

“It wasn’t sufficient, and it didn’t accomplish what he wanted. He didn’t want to leave,” Clifford said.

Poore would not discuss details of the case, but said he is confident the town will prevail.

“The town is very sure of itself that (Farris’ termination) was handled procedurally and that the final outcome was appropriate,” Poore said.

But the town’s attorney, Melissa Hewey, said Farris was fired for “looking at sexually explicit material online and generally not doing his job.”

Hewey also provided documentation from a previous complaint Farris filed against the town, in August 2010, asking for a restraining order to prevent the town from holding a pre-termination hearing. She said a judge dismissed the case.

“It’s a pretty low standard to meet to get a restraining order,” Hewey said. “The complainant (in August 2010) was alleging all the same things he is alleging here.”

Hewey also said that since Farris was hired by the town manager, it was within the town manager’s right to fire him, and that Farris’ assertion that Poore did not have the authority is incorrect.

The town has requested the case be moved from state court to U.S. District Court, and Clifford said Farris would not oppose that request.

Last week, Poore promoted Justin Brown, a former assistant to the code enforcement officer, to the top job. Stearns had been running the office since Farris’ dismissal.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

This story was updated on Sept. 20, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.