From $600,000 to $100,000.
Visiting Common Pleas Judge Judith Cross has ruled to reduce the amount of money the estate of a deceased 11-year-old foster girl will get by half a million dollars.
Former Monroeville foster father Paul Efaw is serving three years in prison for Connre Dixon's Oct. 18, 2004 stabbing death. Attorneys originally named Efaw as a defendant in a subsequent civil lawsuit, but he was dismissed without explanation before jury selection began in the March trial.
On March 23, a jury determined the other defendants, Huron County Department of Job & Family Services (HCDJFS) and Huron County Commissioners, should pay $600,000 to Dixon's estate.
Cross, in her ruling filed Tuesday, wrote that the $600,000 verdict was "excessive and is against the manifest weight of the evidence ... that Connre Dixon was conscious from the time she was first stabbed until she died.
"While the coroner could and did testify that Connre may have lived five or six minutes; she did not testify to any degree of medical certainty that Connre was conscious and able to feel pain and suffering," the judge continued. "No one else testified on this matter. Therefore, the award of damages for and suffering is not justifiable under the law."
Toledo attorney Joan Szuberla represented the county in the civil trial.
"We're pleased the jury lost its way, because we believe that's what happened," Szuberla said. "I can't speak for the judge, but that's some of the language she used."
The Toledo attorney explained Cross' ruling by saying there had to be evidence someone witnessed Dixon's "conscious" pain and suffering.
"The key word is conscious," Szuberla said. "You can't speculate. There has to be evidence."
Current commissioner Mike Adelman was a defendant in the lawsuit, as were former commissioners Terry Boose and Ardeth Chupps.
Adelman called Cross' ruling "a favorable decision" in respect to the county and its insurance company, County Risk Sharing Authority (CORSA), but declined further comment. CORSA is expected to pay for the lawsuit. Adelman explained that CORSA is administered through the County Commissioners' Association of Ohio and is part of a consortium with about 60 other Ohio counties.
"They handle legal matters for counties," he added.
Attorney Jim Martin, who represented Dixon's estate, argued that HCDJFS violated the girl's right to safety by improperly placing her in Efaw's home. Efaw, during the trial, denied allegations of what Martin called "bizarre" behavior, such as telling another child to "play with his thing" after Efaw put his finger through his zipper.
After the jury came back with the $600,000 verdict, Martin said he was "completely elated," calling it "an indictment on what's been going on" with HCDJFS. He was unavailable for comment this morning.
Martin has 21 days to tell the court if he agrees with Cross' decision. "In the event the Plaintiff does not agree, (the) Defendants are awarded a new trial on the issue of damages," the judge wrote.