SIDNEY – A defamation civil lawsuit filed last year involving an employee at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office may not result in a jury trial. Recent court action leads to the case being determined by a judge’s written decision through a summary judgment ruling to dismiss the case.
According to online records filed Monday, the court will determine on June 10 if the case will move towards the Aug. 14 jury trial.
On July 20, 2017, Christine B. Hughes, now of Cookeville, Tennessee, filed a lawsuit against Patrick Goldschmidt, of Fort Loramie, a civilian employee of the sheriff’s office, charging defamation of character. She is asking for $25,000 compensatory damages, $25,000 in punitive damages and reimbursement of court costs.
On Jan. 24, 2014, she was a resident of Shelby County when Goldschmidt allegedly released her photograph ultimately used in various local media stating she was arrested for welfare fraud, in the suit through her attorney Scott Kelly of Sidney.
It was, in fact, the person being arrested was Christine I. Hughes (a different middle initial), she of Miami County, in the round up of people accused of illegally receiving benefits through Shelby County Job and Family Services.
According to the suit, Hughes claims it was a friend on Facebook that alerted her to the use of her photo on television, online media sources and others, linking her to welfare fraud. She claims the reports indicated she was using sex, drugs, and alcohol to gain benefits. The filing indicates Hughes was a registered nurse, co-owner of a local business, at the time, and had never been convicted or charges with a criminal felony.
The media release was part of a press conference called by Sheriff John Lenhart to highlight the department’s round up of seven people accused of fraud.
The sheriff’s office quickly apologized and visited Hughes the next day. Reportedly, several visits were made by sheriff’s personnel with an explanation that her photo was mistakenly included in the photos requested.
Court records indicate Hughes had to defend herself to the allegations to people who believed the news account was accurate. She is claiming to have experienced economic and personal loss to her career and reputation.
Motion for dismissal filed by defendant
On May 17, a motion for summary judgment for dismissal of the case was filed by Goldschmidt through his attorney William Lang of Cleveland, requesting to rule in favor of his client.
Also, on May 17, affidavits of Goldschmidt and Lenhart were filed.
Goldschmidt claims he was given a list of names by Lenhart to pull their photos from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, a common practice at the department, for media sessions.
Goldschmidt alleges he came across two Christine Hughes, one living in Sidney, the other in Piqua. He claims he chose the Sidney resident (the plaintiff) because of her residence. He anticipated law enforcement working on the case would recognize who they were seeking. He said it was common that he would be unfamiliar with the people he was asked to pull their photos of.
He claims he had no reason to believe the wrong picture was pulled and assumed that other deputies would catch the mistake. The affidavit states he has never pulled a wrong photo before or after the Hughes incident, and had no intent to harm her.
Lenhart told of his personal apology to Hughes, of issuing a retraction to local media, and writing a letter of apology. He too claims such a mistake had never occurred during his term as sheriff.
June 10 filing deadline
On May 21, Shelby County Common Pleas Court Judge James Stevenson stated that opposing parties have until June 10 to file any response. He continued, stating Hughes may file a reply memorandum within seven days if a response is filed.
According to online court records, Stevenson stated, “The submission of ‘supplemental’ memoranda or briefs without leave of court for good cause shown are prohibited. Any supplemental memoranda or briefs filed without leave of court will not be considered by the court and will be deemed stricken.”
He continued, “As the court does not find oral argument would be particularly helpful, unless an opportunity to present oral argument is specifically requested, oral argument is deemed waived and the court will decide the motion on the briefs filed.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.