Herndon Town Councilmember Faces Civil Suit

Grace Wolf Cunningham sued for Malicious Prosecution by three Herndon Town Council candidates; $150,000 sought in damages.

Grace Wolf Cunningham, a Herndon Town Councilmember since 2010 and candidate for Town Council of Herndon in the November 2018 general election, is named as Defendant in a Complaint filed Sept. 24, 2018, by three other candidates for Herndon Town Council: Cesar Del Aguila, Sheila Olem and Signe Friedrichs. Like Cunningham, Olem and Friedrichs are current Herndon Town Councilmembers.

The nature of the Complaint is Malicious Prosecution with damages of $150,000 sought.

According to the obtained Complaint, in the summer of 2018 on different dates, Cunningham filed "Stand by Your Ad” complaints with the Virginia Board of Elections under Virginia Code 24.2.956 against Friedrichs, del Aguila and Olem.

The Complaint details that Cunningham alleged the following: there was no identification of whose campaign committee paid for and authorized a palm or “grip card” for Friedrichs; there was no campaign committee named "Friends of Cesar,” del Aguila had not filed required campaign finance disclosure reports; and Olem handed out grip cards titled, "Moving Herndon Forward" at a meeting of the Dranesville Magisterial District Democratic committee.

ALL THREE CASES came before the Virginia State Board of Elections on September 20, 2018, and were summarily dismissed by the Board.

In addition, the Complaint states that before Cunningham filed her Complaints with the Virginia State Board of Elections, she, del Aguila, Olem, Friedrichs and other candidates for Herndon Town Council attended the Dranesville District Committee meeting in Herndon on June 21, 2018.

According to the Complaint: "The purpose of the meeting was to determine which of the candidates for Herndon Town Council would receive the six recommendations for the Dranesville District Committee to the Fairfax County Democratic Committee for endorsement for the November 6, 2018, general election." Cunningham, the Complaint states, “was the only candidate who did not receive a recommendation from the Dranesville District Committee at this meeting.”

In addition, the ComplaInt says that Cunningham filed the three State Board of Election Complaints about del Aguila, Friedrichs and Olem, "not in furtherance of a bona fide claim of Virginia campaign advertisement law, but instead for a personal vindictive reason related to her failure to obtain a recommendation from the Dranesville District Committee."

The Complaint goes on to state that Cunningham damaged del Aquila’s, Friedrich's and Olem's electoral prospects in the November 6, 2018, general election subjecting them to "unfounded allegations of campaign advertisement violation and by forcing them to defend themselves at a public hearing before the Virginia State Board of Elections."

Plaintiffs del Aguila, Olem and Friedrichs requested a judgment of $50,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, as well as costs incurred.

When asked for a comment on the Complaint, Cesar del Aguila responded: “The complaints filed against Sheila, Signe and me by Grace Wolf Cunningham were deliberate and malicious. The charges were reviewed and unanimously dismissed by the state board of elections. I hope the release of their findings clears our names and exposes a pattern of behavior by Grace. This is another example of her abusing process and demonstrates actions unbecoming of an elected official.”

Sheila Olem stated, "The complaint against Grace Wolf Cunningham is for Malicious Prosecution, regarding the Complaints she brought against myself, Signe and Cesar, which were unfounded and dismissed."

"This should not have been necessary," said Signe Friedrichs. "A respectful dialog is the answer to disagreement, not filing an anonymous complaint."

While the Stand by Your Ad Complaint Form, available online through the State Board of Elections asks if the person filing the complaint wants to keep their contact information private, in the Notice section, it states “Records of alleged Stand by Your Ad violations are available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.”

When asked for a response, Grace Wolf Cunningham said, "I can't comment." Merkel, Baker and McKenna did not respond to a request for comment as of Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

IN AN INTERVIEW the morning of Oct. 2, 2018, del Aguila confirmed that after the Herndon Town Council Public Hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 25, Lisa C. Merkel, Mayor of Herndon; Vice Mayor Jennifer Baker; and Herndon Town Councilmember, William McKenna were each served a subpoena related to the Plaintiffs case by a private process server.

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