'Free' counsel to Huron schools turns costly

Judge dismisses suit that stalled school district's payment to attorney in Fox probe.
Jessica Cuffman
Feb 17, 2013


An attorney’s promise to provide 10 free hours of service has turned into a $90,000 bill for Huron Schools.  
Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Roger Binette this week dismissed a lawsuit that had kept Huron Schools from paying attorney Matt Markling for his work on the Fred Fox investigation.  
Early last year, the board voted 3-2 to hire Markling to investigate Fox’s alleged misdeeds, including his interactions with a district vendor and an extramarital affair on school time.  
After interviewing a number of district employees, Markling issued a 50-page report that concluded the board had substantial reason to fire Fox.   
Markling had told board members his first 10 hours of work would be free, and he would send a bill for any additional work. He kept his word — he submitted a $50,000 bill in June, followed by a $10,000 bill in July, $12,000 in October, $5,300 in November and $11,400 this past week. 
The Fox fiasco has effectively divided the school board, with the majority — Donna Green, Scott Slocum and Tim Sowecke — voting in June to fire Fox. 
The other two members, Kevin Asher 
and John Caporini, voted against the firing. 
The board ultimately suspended him without pay, pending the outcome of termination proceedings overseen by the Ohio Department of Education.   
Asher, however, also filed the lawsuit to keep the school district from paying Markling, but Binette quashed those efforts this week.  
Huron Schools treasurer Mike Weis said the district is mailing a $50,000 check to Markling. The board will then have to approve, or not, the additional $40,000 in expenses, since the district’s insurance company won’t foot the bill.
State education officials have already conducted termination hearings against Fox, but a hearing officer has yet to issue a recommendation to either fire or retain Fox. The board does not have to follow the advice. 
The days of hearings, held at Sawmill Creek, were closed to the public and spaced out over a period of months.  
The hearings addressed 23 alleged wrongdoings on Fox’s part, including three major allegations: Fox had an improper business relationship with a district vendor; he improperly sought reimbursements for a trip to Arizona; and he was involved in an extramarital affair on school time.
This past week, Binette also issued a key ruling in a defamation lawsuit Fox filed against Sowecke.
Fox alleges Sowecke delivered the Markling report to the Ohio Ethics Commission to intentionally make the document a public record, thus defaming the superintendent. In court documents, Sowecke’s attorneys said any material provided to the ethics commission would have been privileged and exempt from public disclosure. As such, Sowecke would be immune from a defamation lawsuit.
While Binette seemed to agree, there are still too many unanswered questions to simply dismiss the case.  



The dominos are starting to fall. Mr. Asher's attempt to interfere with the process has been ruled as a ruse and has been dismissed. The defamation lawsuit brought by Mr. Fox is proving to have no merit. Let the chips fall where the may.


and let the taxpayers clean up their mess


If I were a betting man, I would bet that in a month Mr. Fox won't have a job because the dept. of ed. will suspend all of his licenses.


sawmill creek???? what did that cost????


Watch out for that word FREE. Nothing is ever free. The Free word was so this attorney could get his foot in the door for more work coming his way.


Lawyer fees are a joke and people get so mad about healthcare fees. Lawyer insurance anyone?


Once again the focus is on the wrong issue! It is not the lawyers fault "taxpayer" money was spent-it is Mr. Fox's fault. Please remember he is the one that made poor choices leading to this fiasco! Thank goodness some board members did the job they were elected to do by investigating Mr. Fox.


Well said. The only thing I would add is the Asher and Caporini made poor choices when they refused to deal with Fred properly. All they wanted to do was slap him on the hands behind closed doors. Perhaps if they would have man-upped, there wouldn't have been an investigation or bill to pay.


___________ego is so big that ____________feels a lawyer is needed. All lose.

Dudley Do-Right

So if "any material provided to the ethics commission would have been privileged and exempt from public disclosure" who released the Markling Report to the public? Sandusky Register where did you get the Markling Report? Was is released from the District? Did the Treasurer's office release the Markling Report? Sowecke has been blamed, ridiculed, and chastised for driving the Report to Columbus in an effort to make this document public and it turns out by submitting it to the Ethics Commission the document was protected.


Wouldn't be surprised to learn that Asher and Caporini made it public so it couldn't be used against Fox. It certainly would fit their agenda.


This hasn't been determined yet, what you read was the interpretation of his lawyers. Still could go either way and I hope for Tim's sake it doesn't harm him anymore than what's already been unfairly dished out

Ακόμη Sold σχετ...

Good question, Dudley !
How did the Register get the Markling Report if it was privileged ?
It was considered a 'matter of public record' for some reason ?


Dudley, the board's attorney informed the treasurer, Mr. Weiss, to release the report to the Register. Mr. Westerhold has already reported on this in the past. Mr. Sowecke taking the report to the OEC made the report strictly confidential.

Tsu Dho Nimh

I believe you are right about this. Pat Murray was foolish filing the lawsuit against Mr. Sowecke for Fred Fox. He knew why it was public record and that anything submitted to the OEC was private, no matter how it was delivered. This supidity cannot be helping Fred's case.


Lawyers are worthless.


Until you need one!

Julie R.

Wrong. Lawyers are the cause of the train wrecks to begin with. They do it knowing their buddy clones at the courthouse will help them benefit even further.


The public should have the right to know the results of any Ethics Commission rendering, maybe some people wouldn't be pulling the funny stuff that they do. After all, tax dollars were expended trying to sort it all out. I take it this guy is still on the payroll all this time, which is taking way too long.

Tsu Dho Nimh

I cannot help but recall the many comments of the past stating that Pat Murray does not take a case he cannot win. Apparently,he took two.


Spot on.... after seeing the theatrical performance he gave at the board meeting last fall it is a miracle he wins anything

R U Kidding me

I feel another levi coming up. please vote for it so the teachers don't have to take a cut to clean up this mess there in

Julie R.

Win or lose, the worthless lawyers always win.


huron just remember come election time we need a new board. We need to replace all 5.


It seems like this board ran up a HUGE bill to get information they already had didn't they? Couldn't they have gotten the same information by simply reading those emails themselves without having some lawyer running an investigation that cost them all this money? Wow, that really is costing the taxpayers a lot of money that the school board could have better spent on educating the young people of Huron.

If I were a parent with students at ANY school in Huron I wouldn't be happy with that board, nor would I be defending a single soliatry person on that board for a thing they did. Nor would I be happy with their decision to pay an attorney this much money for an investigation they could have done themselves.

This is just wasted money. At this point no matter what anyone is GUESSING about the outcome of any of the rest of this, the point at the moment is, this board just blew a huge amount of school board money that was meant for EDUCATION, not for investigations such as his, but for eduation of young people in Huron. What a shame.

Dudley Do-Right

@Wiredmama ..... Don't you live in the city of Sandusky?

Tsu Dho Nimh

lol...are you referring to the comment she made to richrs regarding Ms. Ard and the blog about Mrs. Farrar? Touche'!

Dudley Do-Right

Tsu Dho Nimh ..... yes you hit the nail on the head, just think it is ironic Wiredmana doesn't want to hear the opinion of a Perkins resident but is quick to share her opinion of Huron.


Are you asking because I asked donutshop guy where he lived? I was asking him because he encourage everyone in Sandusky not to vote for the levy here then encourage all of you not to vote for the levy over there. That is why. It was not to stop him from stating his opinion. I love to hear everyone's opinion. Sorry to disappoint you.


Oh, richrs...No, he told ME I couldn't comment first. Then I told him not to comment about Erie county stuff. Then I told him I was running for the City commissioners...you people need to read ALLL things before you make a comment...not just one thing. Don't make an assumption on ONE comment before you read everything. There is nothing wrong between Richrs and I that I am aware of...so don't try and make a problem. We are fine with each other's comments and such. I enjoy hearing what he has to say. It seems you are looking for a reason to cause a problem. don't.