WOONSOCKET – Even though Alexander Kithes no longer serves as a member of the City Council, he and Councilman James Cournoyer are still fighting – only now it's in Superior Court instead of Harris Hall.
Citing a pattern of “harassing emails and texts and being stalked” by Cournoyer, Kithes has petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the councilman from having any contact with him – an effort in which Kithes has, so far, been unsuccessful. A judge denied the request recently, but the matter has been continued for a hearing on a preliminary injunction on April 16, according to the judiciary's database.
More than likely, however, the matter has already run its course. Cournoyer, who isn't represented by counsel and calls the allegations baseless, said the judge in the case has urged the parties to resolve the matter, and a lawyer who represents Kithes seems inclined to do so.
“We're exploring an amicable resolution of the case...” Matthew D. Provencher told The Call recently.
Kithes, who served some 16 months on the City Council after winning a special election to a partial term in August 2019, declined to comment on the legal action. Kithes, whose political positions usually reflect those of the progressive wing of the state's Democratic party, sought another term in November, but he finished in 10th place, with 3,849 votes – more than 600 votes behind the last-place finisher in the race for seven seats.
“So because the court proceedings are still going on, I have to make a rule not to give any comment on pending litigation,” he said via text message, steering questions to his lawyer.
But papers in the case indicate that Kithes filed the original complaint – apparently without the aid of a lawyer, at least initially, on Feb. 21. The complaint is type-written, much as an ordinary letter – not a professional legal document – and Kithes petitioned the court to proceed “in forma pauperis,” which is Latin for “in the manner of a pauper.” His motion to do so was approved, which required the Brown University graduate to swear to the court that he is indigent, the judiciary's database says.
In addition to the complaint, Kithes filed copies of multiple text messages and emails from Cournoyer, including many that were sent not to him, but one of Cournoyer's neighbors. The recipient was a 78-year-old woman who often came to Kithes' defense on various issues, including a proposed ordinance to exempt the homeless from any sort of criminal prosecution during the pandemic – a measure Cournoyer – along with a majority of the council, opposed.
But the nub of Kithes' case is spelled out in the original two-page complaint, in which he asserts that, despite having asked Cournoyer again and again to stop, the councilman has continued to send him unwanted texts and emails.
“And at least twice, both instances after I lost the 2020 election, I've been made to feel very uncomfortable and worried after texts of his indicated he was stalking me,” Kithes told the court.
One one of those occasions, Kithes said he was mowing the lawn at his residence, located at 153 Winter St., and another instance took place at a gathering in Cold Spring Park for which members of the City Council, including Cournoyer, had approved a permit.
In neither case does Kithes claim to have had a physical encounter with Cournoyer. What he says is that he concluded from later texts from Cournoyer that the councilman must have seen him in those locations.
Cournoyer doesn't deny that he has, on more than one occasion, contacted Kithes via text message or email. But he says he has only done so in reply to personalized comments about his actions on the council which Kithes has posted to social media – usually Twitter.
Cournoyer says he doesn't have an account on Twitter, so when Kithes tweets something that he feels requires a rebuttal, “He hears from me.”
But Cournoyer says Kithes allegations of stalking are wholly fabricated. Cournoyer doesn't deny that he might have seen Kithes while he was mowing the lawn, but it would have happened by chance, which wouldn't be unusual since he lives about a block away from the former councilman in the North End.
As for the alleged episode at Cold Spring Park – Cournoyer says he has no idea what Kithes is talking about.
“There is absolutely no merit to it,” said the councilman, who regards the petition as a mere case of Kithes attempting to insulate himself from criticism.
But Kithes portrays the complaint as the last straw. He said he has asked Cournoyer to stop contacting him at least six times since the election, to no avail.
“If you watch meetings it's clear that he has had it out for me since I first got elected,” he told the court. “I felt uncomfortable about all of this but I thought that was the nature of the job, so I just stressed about it in private... I assumed I had to wait until after we had our last meeting together and were essentially no longer colleagues.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo