Jimmy McDuffie likely will be re-elected to another term as Effingham County sheriff today, but veteran lawman faces a legal challenge in court.
McDuffie is being sued by the owner of a Rincon towing service for $100,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
Alicia Smithey is asking for a jury trial in federal court for what she deems as an unjustified and wrongful removal of her towing company, Smithey’s Wrecker Service, from the list of wrecker companies used by the sheriff’s department.
Smithey and her attorneys, Kevin Branch of Atlanta and Michael McGovern of Knoxville, Tenn., also have asked for a federal injunction to force McDuffie to place Smithey back on the wrecker rotation list.
As of Monday afternoon, McDuffie had not been served with the lawsuit.
A hearing for the injunction has not been scheduled yet, said McGovern. McGovern specializes in representing tow truck companies.
“I don’t know when it will be,” he said.
In her suit, filed Oct. 27 in U.S. District Court in Savannah, Smithey alleged that McDuffie removed her company from the rotation list of towing companies as retribution for her support of his opponent in the July Republican primary, Rick Gossett.
According to the filing, Smithey said she was sent “without notice or warning” a letter on July 22 advising her that her wrecker company was being removed from the on-call list on Aug. 1. Smithey counters that prior to that date, neither she nor anyone associated with her company had taken part in “any wrongful conduct justifying removal from the ECSD rotation towing list.”
“The actions of McDuffie were intentional and malicious and were carried out with a wanton and reckless disregard for the rights or interests of Smithey,” the complaint says. …. “The actions of McDuffie were an abuse of his official position and were made under the color of law.”
Her lawsuit also states that there is “no adequate remedy under state law available” to rectify her claims. The sheriff’s “intentional, malicious, and wanton acts” have caused Smithey to suffer “considerable monetary damages, the loss of revenue … and damage to her reputation in the automotive towing business and within the community.”
The suit also claims that the sheriff violated Smithey’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights with “an egregious abuse of governmental power” and further stated that McDuffie has no authority to regulate the economics of Effingham towing companies. In his letter to Smithey informing her she was being removed from the list, McDuffie said he was doing so for economic reasons.
McDuffie said wrecker companies typically are called out about five times a month and Smithey’s been one of five on the list.