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Bryan County District Court Judge Mark Campbell has recused himself from the defamation lawsuit Durant City Manager Tim Rundel has filed against the city and City Councilmember Oden Grube. The case has been assigned to Atoka County Associate District Judge Preston Harbuck.
Campbell would not comment on his decision. Rundel’s attorney, Randal Homburg of Midwest City, said the development won’t affect how he handles the case. Grube’s attorney, Thomas LeBlanc, of Tulsa-based law firm Best & Sharp, did not return a call for comment. Homburg said the case will still be heard in Bryan County, though many of the preliminary hearings may be held in Harbuck’s Atoka courtroom.
Harbuck pointed out that both he and Grube’s counsel have to travel regardless of where the hearings are held. But he said there was no reason to think that once it goes to trial the case wouldn’t be heard in Bryan County. Homburg said he is very confident in Rundel’s case.
“I would love for this to be tried in Bryan County,” he said.
On Sept. 7, Rundel filed a defamation lawsuit against the city and Grube. The city was finally served the lawsuit this week, according to court records.
Rundel claims that shortly after Grube was sworn in, she and her son Jimmy secretly met with city employees. After these meetings, Grube reportedly publicly released a report that claimed department superintendents were unhappy with the city staff and called for the termination of at least two city hall employees.
The lawsuit also claims that Grube used a Facebook page to criticize city employees and their family members. The lawsuit alleges that Grube posted her report on social media in violation of her duties as a councilmember.
Rundel’s lawsuit claims that Grube’s actions have damaged his reputation and made it difficult for him to find other employment if the need arose.
He is asking for damages from the city to compensate him for his alleged damage and to cover attorney’s fees and court costs. He is also asking the court or damages of at least $10,000 from Grube plus attorney’s fees and court costs. He is also demanding a jury trial.
In court filings, Grube claims that her actions were protected by the First Amendment and a state law designed to allow public participation in government. She has requested the lawsuit be dismissed.