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Martin hit with suit filed by former St. Louis Election Board employee

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 21, 2010- Republican congressional nominee Ed Martin, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, is getting some unwanted blasts from the past.

A former Republican employee of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, who was fired by Martin in 2005, sued him today because of disparaging comments hemade about her to the Riverfront Times in a profile published this week.

Jeanne Bergfeld contended in the suit that Martin's comments violated a settlement agreement that resolved an earlier lawsuit that she had filed against Martin and others in 2006.

In 2006, Bergfeld -- who had a top GOP staffer at the board since 1993 -- said in that initial suit that she had been fired because board chairman Martin and others alleged that she was "not Republican enough." At the time, Republicans controlled the Election Board because fellow Republican Matt Blunt was governor. Bergfeld had been hired when Democrat Mel Carnahan was governor.

Martin told the Riverfront Times for its profile of him that Bergfeld was fired because she wasn't doing her job.

Bergfeld's suit filed today said such comments violated the 2007 settlement, in which Martin signed a letter praising Bergfeld as a "conscientious and dedicated professional." The letter acknowledges professional differences.

Martin's campaign alleged that the new suit was somehow tied to Carnahan, and asserted that Bergeld lawyer Chet Pleban was a Carnahan supporter.

Pleban said it was ridiculous to assert that he was helping Carnahan, and cited his lawsuit more than a decade ago against the congressman's father, then-Gov. Mel Carnahan. Pleban represented a TV cameraman who was shoved by the governor, and sued him over the incident, which was caught on video.

"This is just an attempt on (Martin's) part to deflect attention from what he did,'' Pleban said. "I didn't tell him to make those comments to the Riverfront Times...Ed Martin needs to explain why he did this."

Bergfeld now is suing Martin for $25,000, but Pleban said that the issue "isn't about the money so much as about her reputation."

Two hours after Bergfeld's afternoon news conference, Martin held one of his own -- to talk about something else. He is accusing the Carnahan campaign of being behind an attack website that disparages his former employment with the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.