New dates scheduled in case against sheriff

By Alexandra Newman -

SIDNEY — The case of mistaken identity that led to a civil case in Shelby County Common Pleas Court has new dates scheduled in front of a judge.

The original civil suit was filed in February of 2014 by Christine Hughes against Sheriff John Lenhart and others. She alleged defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The case stemmed from an incident on Feb. 21 when the sheriff and then-Deputy Patrick Goldschmidt erroneously used Hughes’ photograph in media regarding the county’s crackdown on welfare fraud. The Sheriff’s Office apologized to Hughes shortly after discovering the error and removing it, but that was not before dissemination of the photograph via television and online outlets based on a press release from the Sheriff’s Office.

The plaintiff in the case has the same name as the person who was convicted in the welfare fraud case, The Sidney Daily News reported at that time.

The court supported the claims of both defamation and false light, stating the facts in the case did not rise to the level of a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, the court agreed with the defense claim that the Sheriff’s Office acting within its official capacity is immune from liability as a political subdivision, and this case did not meet any of the exceptions to that immunity.

On March 6, 2014 Lenhart and Goldschmidt filed a motion to dismiss in Shelby County Common Pleas Court based on their presumptive governmental immunity.

The court granted the motion to dismiss on Aug. 5, 2014, and Hughes filed her notice of appeal on Aug. 29, according to court records.

The Third District Court of Appeals determined that the governmental immunity claim applies only to negligence, not to reckless and wanton acts, as is alleged in the lawsuit.

Although the sheriff’s office issued a retraction to the original error, “the retraction still indicated that Hughes was either a convicted felon or had been charged with a criminal act,” wrote Judge John R. Willamowski for the appellate court.

He concluded that Hughes’ suit sufficiently alleged that conduct was either intentional or reckless and, therefore, was exempt from immunity, and Hughes should be allowed to prove her case in court.

The case was remanded back to the Shelby County Common Pleas Court for further proceedings.

Tuesday of this week, a scheduling conference was held to determine further dates. A final pre-trial hearing will be held June 10, 2016 at 9 a.m. The jury trial will be held June 20, 21, and 22 starting at 9 a.m.

By Alexandra Newman

Reach this writer at 937-538-4825; follow on Twitter @SDNAlexandraN

Reach this writer at 937-538-4825; follow on Twitter @SDNAlexandraN