NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A jury decided that a Norfolk landlord should be awarded $300,000 in damages after siding in her favor in a defamation suit against the city.
Stephanie Ann Wadnola owns 731 Granby St. In her lawsuit against the city, her attorney, Barry Montgomery alleges that a city employee defamed Wadnola, hurting her business and damaging her reputation.
Wadnola purchased the property in 2016, and in 2017 she began operating Jhanes Sweet Lounge. The business was registered to Jhanesis LLC. She said she sold the business after her father got sick and she could no longer manage operations.
She remained the landlord, and a group took over the restaurant. A few months into the transition, the new owner, Christopher Skipper began operating Suite 1200.
Wadnola said that she and Skipper did everything by the book, going to the City Planner’s office to document the change.
In Oct. 2020, court documents reveal that the city cited the owners of Suite 1200 for operating without a required zoning certificate. The matter was dropped.
According to court documents, on May 4, 2021, city employees met with Skipper and his business partner, Donta Williams, allegedly telling them that Wadnola had been running her business illegally “since day one.”
“When that comment was made, I found out because my tenets came and told me, and pretty much were questioning my business tactics,” Wadnola told 10 On Your Side. “I’m still a landlord. I still have a commercial building that is a restaurant. I still have to deal with people in the industry. If people think I do bad business, who’s going to want to do business with me? Nobody is going to want to sign a lease with me.”
10 On Your Side reached out to the city about the suit. City spokesman Chris Jones said the city is working to have the matter overturned in courts. Jones referred to court records in which the city argued Wadnola operated her business under a fictitious name. Montgomery responded by claiming that the city had still accepted taxes despite the discrepancy between “Jhanesis LLC” and “Jhanes Sweet Lounge.”
The City Attorney’s Office shared a statement:
“While the jury returned a verdict, no judgment has been entered against the City and the circuit court has already taken under advisement motions to strike the plaintiff’s case and to possibly grant a judgment in favor of the City, effectively voiding the jury verdict. Because the parties are still litigating both of these motions, we do not expect any decision, either in favor of Ms. Wadnola or in favor of the City, until late May at the earliest.”
Wadnola said would like to see accountability and transparency from the city.