Originally Published by: Debra Tobin (Logan Daily News)
Date: March 26, 2015
LOGAN – After the Hocking County coroner was cleared of a criminal coercion charge during a jury trial in November 2014, he explored the possibility of civil action against a number of Hocking County public officials and employees.
Tuesday afternoon that came to fruition as attorney, Rick L. Brunner, of Brunner Quinn Law Firm in Columbus, filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against numerous Hocking County public officials. However, the suit is against the individuals and not the county.
Brunner filed the lawsuit on behalf of Hocking County Coroner David Cummin and his family naming Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North and employees David Valkinburg, and Edwin Downs; Laina Fetherolf, Hocking County Prosecutor; and Hocking County Commissioner Sandy Ogle and former commissioners John Walker and Clark Sheets as defendants in the case.
“It is regrettable and stunning that these circumstances happened to Dr. Cummin and his family,” state Brunner. “We often hear complaints in the public forum about qualified persons being discouraged from running for or serving in public office.”
According to the court paperwork, the three commissioners are explicitly being sued for violation of the Sunshine Act, while the others are being sued for two counts of malicious prosecution; abuse of process; intimidation of a public official; loss of consortium; and declaratory judgment.
“If the defendants haven’t done anything illegal, then they have nothing to worry about,” said Cummin.
The federal case comes just four months after Cummin faced a jury trial in Hocking County Municipal Court for coercion that stemmed from a series of charges filed against him last year.
The case began when the prosecutor’s office filed a writ of mandamus against Cummin, which was dismissed, followed by a series of charges filed in Hocking County Municipal Court in July of last year.
Cummin was charged with five misdemeanors including three counts of dereliction of duty; one count of obstructing official business; and one count of coercion. In September, four of the five charges were dismissed and Cummin faced a jury trial in November for the coercion charge and was acquitted.
In January, Brunner made a public records request to county officials and the outcome of those records ultimately lead to the civil lawsuit.
“The charges filed in this case are civil counts for recovery of damages,” stated Brunner.
Cummin is seeking compensatory damages in the suit as to be determined by a jury trial from all defendants except the commissioners. He is seeking an injunction compelling the commissioners to comply with the provisions of the Ohio Open Meetings Act and for civil forfeiture of $500.
He also is seeking punitive damages against the HCSO defendants and Fetherolf in an amount to be determined at trial for all conduct found to be motivated by bad faith, malice, intent or reckless or callous indifference to Cummin’s rights; and for an award of costs, pre and post-judgment interest and his attorney’s and expert witness fees.
The paperwork filed Tuesday states, “This is an action brought to redress the violation of Plaintiff David Cummin’s right to be free from malicious criminal prosecution brought in the absence of probable cause. As part of a scheme to control and dictate how Dr. Cummin, the elected Hocking County Coroner, conducts the business of his office, defendants caused criminal charges to be filed, which were so flimsy in nature that all were dismissed before Dr. Cummin was even required to put on evidence in his own defense.”
“The facts set forth in this complaint demonstrate the type of indignities that discourage public service by those in public positions or employment, who seek to protect their perceived respective power bases and control the delivery of public services for their own ends,” Brunner commented. “It is our purpose in this filing to rectify a spectacular and grave injustice.”
As of press time, those named in the lawsuit had not received any paperwork from federal court indicating the lawsuit was filed Tuesday afternoon.
“As of Wednesday afternoon, my office has not received paperwork indicating any pending lawsuit against any county department or unit brought about by Hocking County Coroner Dave Cummin,” stated Fetherolf. “We are unable to comment at this time since we have not officially been notified by the court of any lawsuit being filed.”