The Huron County Commissioners plan to fight the decision of a jury to award $600,000 to the estate of an 11-year-old girl killed by her foster father.
Commissioners Mike Adelman and Gary Bauer as well as county prosecutor Russell Leffler and assistant county prosecutor Davia Kasper discussed the wrongful death lawsuit won by the estate of Connre Dixon. Dixon was fatally stabbed in 2003 by her Monroeville foster father Paul Efaw.
Because the discussion was about an ongoing legal proceeding it was not open to the public. Following the hour-long, closed-door meeting Tuesday, Kasper said the county might file several post-trial motions. One would request the trial judge, Visiting Common Pleas Judge Judith Cross, issue a judgment "notwithstanding the verdict." In essence, the judge has the ability to override the jury's verdict.
"I think the county is aware that Connre Dixon's death was an awful tragedy," Kasper said. "But what we're asking the judge to determine is if the evidence presented at trial supported the verdict."
Another motion would call for a new trial. A third motion would ask the court to grant a lesser award, claiming the $600,000 figure is excessive.
The lawsuit named the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS) and the county commissioners who were in office at the time of Dixon's Oct. 14, 2004 death. The $600,000 will not be paid directly by the county but by its insurance company CORSA, which insures about 65 of Ohio's 88 counties.
However, Adelman said when a county files a claim, its premium will likely will increase and the county will pay back a portion of the award that way.
The county could file any or all of the aforementioned motions, but it must do so within 14 days, Kasper said. The county has 30 days to appeal the jury's verdict. The county will decide whether to appeal after the judge issues her ruling on the other motions.
Adelman said there was no discussion of personnel during the executive session because commissioner Ralph Fegley was not at the meeting, and have there been any personnel changes at the department of job and family services. When asked if there will be, Adelman said:
"I don't think I can answer that today. The agency is under an agency review."
At the time the agency review was announced at the end of February, the commissioners said it was not a personnel "shakedown" and that HCDJFS Director Erich Dumbeck's job was safe.
"No, it's not (in jeopardy). If it was we'd have already taken care of that," Fegley said in February. "You have to decide if you're going to help him or not. And we've decided to help."
Fegley currently is unavailable for comment because he is on vacation.
On Tuesday, Adelman said a number evaluations for county employees, including Dumbeck, are on tap for the near future and it would not be prudent to address the issue until the review process is complete. He added that does not necessarily mean Dumbeck's job is in danger.
Bauer said his answer about Dumbeck and other HCDJFS employees is the same now as it was a month ago.
"This is not a perfect world. There are always ongoing evaluations," he said.