'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.  
 

Comments

BLTN

Wired, the board didn't "run up a HUGE bill", Mr. Fox, Mr. Asher and Mr. Caporini did. Mr. Fox by his pre-investigation actions and then by refusing to resign quietly in the very beginning of this fiasco, Mr. Caporini and Mr. Asher by refusing to counsel their friend, Mr. Fox, to resign, Mr. Asher going forward with a frivolous suit against the board to prevent them from paying for the investigation and Mr. Fox then bringing a defamation suit against board memeber, Mr. Sowecke. The fees could have been kept in the 50K range had Mr. Fox simply and respectfully resigned in the very beginning when he had the chance to do so.
Now 50K is no small amount, I agree, but in a school system with an 8 million dollar surplus, it's peanuts. If you could spend 50K to save the taxpayers from improper acts of your superintendent, I am sure you would agree to spend the money. You wouldn't like to do it, but you would.
I respectfully disagree that this "is just waisted money". I believe it is money well spent if it rids the system of corruption.
This money lost to the investigation and defending these frivolous suits has no effect whatsoever on educating the students in the system. But it is a shame that Mr. Fox, Mr. Asher and Mr. Caporini did not do the right thing at several points along the way to prevent this drama and expense.

wiredmama222

BLTN....who ordered the investigation? Did Mr Fox? Did Mr. Asher or Mr. Caporini? It was the board, I believe. So I don't see who you can blame them for this cost.

Tmm

hey wired i'm quoting you from one of your other idiotic comment's... "he had a cell phone that belonged to the City of Sandusky. Nit picking or not, that is my tax dollars he is spending". Wired, do you have any idea of what a complete dimwit you make yourself out to be by commenting one way then completely contradicting yourself. Again stick to issues in your own community & stay out of issues you have no clue about.

wiredmama222

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

wiredmama222

@tnn.....try not to mix apple and oranges....but these boards, as so many have pointed out, are not for one part of a city or another. So my comments can be made about your town or mine, just as your comments can be about Sandusky as well. You don't have the right to censure anyone's comments.

Situations are much different over here. My comments were not about his cellphone but about his falsefication of paperwork. That is a fact. I said nothing about his cellphone use. That must have been someone else to whom you are referring. I could care less about the man's cellphone.
So the facts are facts. You must be confused with Mr. Fox.

The board you have in Huron, ordered that Markling report which cost the taxpayer, not just you, but all of the taxpayers, a great deal of money. Like it or not.

The issues in Huron have been placed in the SR and have been on the front page or the second page for all to read over here as over there. Your board could have fired him at any time. They chose to take a much more public route and cost your taxpayer a large amount of money whether you or anyone else like it or not.

For anyone to comment is our right. For you not to like it is your right, but you do not, as I don't, have the right to tell someone else to stay out of it. That is something I learned only recently. That is too bad, Tmm. Expect to be criticized by others when this kind of thing comes up, just like us here in good old Sandusky.

Justme...

Wired, I've asked before...have you read the report of the investigation? It included more than just emails. Do you honestly think with two board members serving to protect the super, the five of them would have been able to work together to conduct a complete investigation without outside help? Can you imagine how that would have been for the staff members that were interviewed? Unfortunately, it required someone from outside the district.

wiredmama222

Yes, and if you read what I wrote to Tmm you will find what I just said to be true to you as well. Fire the man, by all means, but to run up all these bills to do so is just silly.

Your board spent taxpayer money to do this. Money that should have gone to educate kids: one of my favorite things. I see NO reason, with what you all had on him, to have gone to this length. You had him anyway. Why did you not just fire him? Instead, your board felt the need to humiliate, and embarrass as well and it cost the taxpayer.

That was totally unnecessary. You had the "goods" why not fire him as you were well aware you could have. This was nuts. To cost the taxpayer this kind of cash is inexcuseable and totally unnecessary. It was done to do just as I said, when terribly unnecssary and vendictive.

I see no reason, when being professional, that any of this was necessary.

For those involved, when you had the reasons in your hands, to go to this length, that is was for any other reason than to be nasty, vendicitive and to hurt him, his family and to "show him up in public". I don't know who thought this up, but they truly are unprofessional in conduct.

The most idealic thing to do with what I read was to fire him and just let him go his way. That would have been plenty, but someone else had a hidden agenda and they were NOT going to let it end with that. How sad.

Justme...

Wired you obviously have no idea of the process REQUIRED to terminate a superintendent. Apparantly its not easy! The board didn't drag this out because they wanted to. They had to give him his due process, including his right to public statements and his right to a public or private (as he chose) hearing. If it were as simple as "you're fired - bye bye" they probably would have done that last spring. I must say though, I am encouraged that you finally see that the termination is justified. You've come a long way!

wiredmama222

@ Justme.....I never said to you that they should say: "you're fired bye, bye". What I did say was that they had the goods on him. Your board didn't handle any of this right whatsoever. On that I think many would agree. But to drag out the Markling people to cost your taxpayers this much money was just plain silly.

I am a HUGE fan of education. To waste this much money on this at the expense of money that could have gone to education is not something many boards wouldn't do, is what I am saying.

The truth is, they could have done this without all this expense and I believe you are smart enough a person to understand that much. You seem to be highly intelligent and knowlegable to know the ins and outs of exactly what I mean here.

He should have been let go with what I have read. No doubt there are questionable things in this record. But truly, the board did NOT have to expend this kind of funds to go the distance. They had PLENTY to get rid of him. His contract MUST have included a great many things of which he was guilty to terminate him. In which case, they gave him his day in "court" so to speak and terminated him.

My question is, given the paperwork I read, prior to when they had that Markling report done, why didn't they just STOP Markling before it got so expensive? I would have thought that the prudent thing to do?

Ακόμη Sold σχετ...

Let's all wait for the 'DECISION'.

I think there's still a lot of drama to come.

BLTN

Sold, regardless of the "decision", the school employees have lost confidence in Mr. Fox being able to lead the system anymore. He has lost credibility as a leader by his actions pre-investigation and even moreso, post-investigation. The board should decide to terminate him no matter what the referee says.

nobodyfromnowhere

If the Ohio Dept of Education recommends that Fox be retained and the board voted to fire him any ways then the school's insurance carrier WILL drop their coverage and all future costs will come directly from the schools general fund including lawyers cost and any court judgements and negotiated resolution.

Tmm

wait a minute...is this the same 2012 sold who never had any less than 3 to 4 paragraphs per comment? the same sold who would go on and on about how the 3 stooges had no justifiable right to have fredo fox investigated? after 3 months all we get is 2 feaking sentences!!
for those who don't know... the word down at the huron brass pelican straight from fredo's close circle is that he doesn't stand a snowballs chance in he!!. whats that old saying..."loose lips sink ships"? wow fredo you need new friends!

Tsu Dho Nimh

Funny you should mention loose lips. I have been accused of being tied to the "three stooges" or even an attorney. The truth is, I just listen to the stories of the Fox supporters I know, peel back the spin, and come to my own conclusions. It is amazing what information his "friends" share and how the more they say, the guiltier he appears.

wiredmama222

@sold....whoever was doing this had just cause to fire this man it appears. Having read what they had it would have been a simple matter but someone is behind this. They didn't want just a firing, they wanted a reconning, a public humiliation at any cost. They were not going to stop until they got it. It isn't coming from just the board, either but from outside the board. That's pretty evident. Someone had it IN for him and they are not going to stop until they "get" him.

God help them if it doesn't go their way. I have a nasty feeling if Fox, by some strange reason, wins even ONE case, the rats will come flooding from the woodwork. Even they have sense enough to leave a drowning ship. LOL

Huron_1969

You're really twisting in the wind.... I cannot phantom how you came up with this angle. Whatever happened to all your Sunshine law preaching, you know, the one you said you spent 5 minutes reading last fall.

Justme...

She is a piece of work. She FINALLY reads the report, sort of back tracks on what she spewed about for months, now somehow she's STILL an expert on how this was handled. Every step of the way she swears she knows it all.

Huron_1969

Not really her fault.... she sits high above us all on her pulpit, but forgets to come back down to get oxygen for her brain.

wiredmama222

@Justme_1969...why are you not over in Sandusky preaching about theft in office? I was so sure I would see you there, preaching about someone stealing with your same anger level as you do over here! You were so incenced about it, why not over there with your attempts to raise the bar of we poor Sanduskians who could use you? Please don't tell me you don't post over Sandusky stuff. I have seen you there over and over again.

So why not? Please do not let anyone stop you from posting about theft over there. You have a pulpit over there, too. After all, theft is theft, right? That is what you kept telling everyone. Why not in Sandusky?

wiredmama222

@ Justme...That really is unfair. I am not going to discuss that part at all. I have read what u suggested and if you had read the answer about you understand that. Don't make me sorry I gave you credit for being intelligent.

As for the rest, I already said your board had several reasons to fire him but they did it wrong. I wonder why they let these bills get so huge when they could have stopped them? Why is that?

What reason did they have for the total innihilation of his characther?

wiredmama222

I am not twisting in the wind, huron 1969, but you are. Why not over in Sandusky, preaching your hard earned "theft is theft" speech?

However, I will wait to see what Binnett says. I am wondering what the "other" things are he has to say. He may be leaning one way, but the "other things" makes me wonder about what he is thinking?

No one can be 100% sure about anything can they now? Unless they might come from Huron? Oh, yes, that's right. You all do. You all seem so certain of everything over there.

I would love to know the outcome of what the JUDGE, who has the final word, has to say. Just bidding my time.

Huron_1969

Mission control to wired
Please come back to earth
You're out of oxygen!!!

Common_Cents

Why is the insurance company only covering the first $50,000? And what are the recent bills for? Is this company still doing work for the school district? I thought they had other attorneys working the hearing?

Julie R.

The court certainly was super quick to address (and dismiss) the lawsuit that kept the Huron schools from paying Matt Markling his $90,000.00 attorney fee. On the other hand, the average citizens in Erie County sure don't get treated with that kind of respect. The joke courts in Erie County won't even address legitimate complaints from the average citizens, much less be quick about it like they were on this one.

Julie R.

As for the other part of this ~ Fox's defamation lawsuit against Soweke ~ why didn't the court settle that at the same time? More money for the attorney and his law firm, maybe? After all, win or lose, Fox will still have to pay his attorney.

UgtaBkdnMe

wired

I am asking what should be taken as a fair question: Why is it okay for you to give your opinion as an outsider on the actions of the Huron school board (basically saying they are unprofessional)but when a non-Sandusky resident gives an opinion about Ms. Ard or the voting of a school levy, you point out to them that they don't live in Sandusky? If you chose to answer this, please don't give me a lecture or point out where I am taking things out of context. Just a short, non-confrontational answer will do.

wiredmama222

@ugtabkdnme...go read the anwers yourself.

Short enough....or shall I just say that you, too, should learn to read ALL posts, not just one.

Ακόμη Sold σχετ...

Like I said earlier:
Let's wait for the decision.

I/We all know where I/we stand on this situation !

I'm fairly confident about the outcome, but I am waiting to hear it and see it in print. Fred Fox has been defamed throughout this situation and the 8 million dollar surplus, (some of you keep throwing out there), would not be in place if not for Fred Fox. Neither would the football stadium. Yet.. Three people who have done nothing for the school system, (fiscally or educationally), have a right to TRY to fire this man ?

We shall see.
And listen rats..
Leave the ship.
You'll be dog paddling back when it's all said and done.

Tsu Dho Nimh

Sold...I will say that Fred has a good friend in you. I think you are misguided and the only person who will sink will be Fred. According to the Fox campaign headquarters, we will know the decision of ODE before the Ides of March. After watching Mr. Murray's show back in September, it is probably a good thing for Fred that the final arguments are being submitted in writing and not in person.

Ακόμη Sold σχετ...

There's still room on this boat for you TDN.

Fred's not going to sink, but as I stated earlier here:
There will be a lot of drama before this is all over.

The next Huron Board of Education meeting should be interesting.

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