Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Trumbull County, Ohio commissioner and defendants given a win in lawsuit. (The Vindicator, January 17, 2024 )

From The Vindicator, January 17, 2024:

Trumbull County commissioner and defendants given a win in lawsuit

WARREN — A ruling from Judge J. Philip Calabrese states that Trumbull County Commissioner Niki Frenchko suffered a “false arrest” and potentially was subjected to several other underlying, unlawful acts detailed in her federal lawsuit against the county, the sheriff’s department, the sheriff, a county commissioner and a former commissioner stemming from her July 7, 2022, arrest.

In the ruling from Calabrese, a judge in the United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio, the court granted in part and denied in part Frenchko’s motion for partial summary judgment. 

“It’s a huge win; it’s huge for Niki,” David Betras, one of Frenchko’s attorneys, said. 

The defendants in the lawsuit were awarded summary judgment or partial summary judgment on several claims as well. 

Regarding claims that Sgts. Robert Ross and Harold Wix committed battery, the court ruled that the “defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this claim to the extent it is based on Sgt. Wix moving Commissioner Frenchko’s chair,” according to the document. 

The defendants also were “entitled to judgment” regarding Frenchko’s claim of malicious prosecution. 

The document states the defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on their claim for false arrest or civil conspiracy, of which the judge said “a jury is entitled to decide the issue.” 

The court dismissed claims against the defendants of assault, destruction of public records, civil liability of criminal acts and conversion.

Those named in the lawsuit, filed April 17, 2022, besides the county and sheriff’s department are Sheriff Paul Monroe, Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, former commissioner Frank Fuda, Ross and Wix, who arrested Frenchko at a July 7, 2022, commissioners meeting, on a fourth-degree misdemeanor charge of disrupting a public meeting. The charge later was dismissed by a visiting judge at the request of a special prosecutor.

The ruling states that while Frenchko spoke over Fuda for about 70 seconds while he tried to advance the meeting, “that fact in isolation, and even taking it together with Commissioner Frenchko’s interruption of the clerk, fails to provide probable cause to believe that a public official speaking in a limited public forum on a matter of public concern committed a crime.”

“It was absolutely chilling and I and Commissioner Frenchko are truly grateful that those who committed these vile acts are now being held accountable,” Betras said in a news release. 

“The people of Trumbull County elected me in 2020 because I promised to bring transparency and accountability to county government,” Frenchko stated in a news release. “When I kept my word, I was harassed, assaulted and ultimately arrested, but I would not be intimidated. Today’s ruling both vindicates what I have done in the past and gives me the strength to continue fearlessly doing the people’s business in the months and years ahead.”

Daniel Downey, the attorney for the defendants, did not reply to an email requesting comment.

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