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Jury awards $25K to Ronda mayor in lawsuit he filed against political foe

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WILKES COUNTY, N.C. — A long simmering rift between Ronda Mayor Victor Varela and his political foe, Kevin Reece, now newly elected town commissioner, has been settled – at least in court, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

A Wilkes County jury awarded Varela $25,000 in compensatory damages Wednesday in a lawsuit Varela filed against Reece last year. The lawsuit alleged that Reece, upset over Varela’s support of animal-control ordinances, got a teenager, Josh Murray, to smoke marijuana in the Varela household and secretly videotape it. The lawsuit alleged that Reece had opposed the animal-control ordinances because Reece is part of an international cockfighting ring.

John Vermitsky and Benjamin Porter, attorneys for Varela, filed the lawsuit last year in Wilkes Superior Court. A jury heard the case this week and deliberated for about an hour before coming back with a verdict at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Vermitsky said.

He said that he and Porter reached an agreement before the jury started considering punitive damages.

“We were very happy with the jury verdict,” Vermitsky said. “(The jurors) carefully weighed what had occurred and sent the clear message to Mr. Reece and others like him that this type of conduct – secretly obtaining private information about political figures to change the democratic process – will not be tolerated. Ben Porter and I are very happy for Mr. and Mrs. Varela that they can get some closure on this issue.”

Freedman said Reece’s actions were prompted by his opposition to illicit drug use, not because he wanted to blackmail Varela. The issue before the jury was not about blackmail; it was about the invasion of privacy and a conspiracy to invade privacy, he said.

Freedman said he and Reece decided to resolve the matter because of the expense of any appeal, which would be equivalent to what the judgment was.

“The (town) of Ronda has been split for too long over this issue and it needs to be put to bed so the town government can go about the business of focusing on the needs of the people,” Freedman said.