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Wednesday, September 28,2011

Attorneys still scrapping over big-award Glouster towing lawsuit

By Jim Phillips

Attorneys in a lawsuit by a towing company against the village of Glouster continue to fight ferociously in Athens County Common Pleas Court, in a case in which a jury's award of more than $1 million in damages was knocked down by a judge to one-eighth the original amount.

Attorney Robert C. Paxton, who represents JD's Towing, has asked Judge Michael Ward to throw out two motions by defense attorney Randall Lambert, who represents three village officials. Lambert has asked Ward to either grant his clients complete new trials on all issues, or to dismiss the cases against all three defendants.

After a trial in late 2010, a jury in Athens County Common Pleas Court awarded more than $1.04 million in damages to JD's and its owners, David Dolan, Jr., and his wife Jennifer Dolan. The damages were shared unequally among three village officials: former Mayor David Angle, current Mayor Robert Funk and Police Chief Roger Taylor.

In a post-trial ruling, however, Ward granted the defendants new trials on a number of the damage categories, effectively reducing the award to just $130,000. Both sides have appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeals, which has remanded the case back to the trial court to decide on a couple of narrow issues relating to damages before the appeal can move forward.

In their 2005 lawsuit, the Dolans claimed that in retaliation for their having refused to lower a towing fee for a friend of Angle's, the village officials had conspired to deny village towing jobs to their company.

In a motion filed Sept. 14, Paxton asked Ward to order the defendants to produce discovery material, including communications between Lambert and The Ohio Firm, a risk-management and insurance organization that he claims has recently "offered a defense to all defendants in this action, all unbeknown to plaintiffs."

Some of the material Paxton is seeking apparently relates to his allegation that Lambert flatly refused a "good faith offer" by the plaintiffs to settle the case before trial. If true, this could have an effect on such questions as whether the defendants are required to pay interest on the award dating to the time before the judgment was issued.

Paxton includes a letter he wrote to Lambert in April 2010, before the trial, in which he offered to settle for $500,000, and the promise that JD's would be placed on "some reasonable rotation" to get village towing jobs.

Lambert replied in an email, calling the settlement offer "rather unbelievable. Are you sure this is accurate? There is no way I can even respond to this, except to say there is no way we pay any amount even close to this."

Paxton claims the best settlement offer he ever got from Lambert was for $2,500.

Lambert said Tuesday that he continues to find the damage amounts awarded by the jury astounding.'
"That (verdict) is crazy, and one of these days you're going to see that completely reversed," he predicted. "That case would make a great movie called, 'The Runaway Jury.'"

Paxton also wants Judge Ward to strike Lambert's requests for completely new trials for all three defendants, or for the cases against them to be dismissed.

The new-trial motion, Paxton wrote, came "out of the blue." He argued that the trial court at this point has no jurisdiction to even consider either of these motions, as the case has gone up to the 4th District Court of Appeals, and has been remanded back to the trial court only on the specific issues of pre-judgment interest and attorney fees.

The motion to dismiss the cases against Angle, Funk and Taylor was based on Lambert's claim that the suits had not been filed soon enough, and missed a two-year statute of limitations deadline.

Paxton argued in his motion to strike, however, that Lambert presented "absolutely no evidence" at trial that had anything to do with the statute of limitations.

He noted that jury interrogatories in the case were 48 pages long. "If defendants were serious that the statute of limitations was a defense, they most certainly would have questioned the jury on this point," he added.

Paxton wants Ward to give Lambert a "drop-dead date" to answer Paxton's discovery requests; to postpone a scheduled Sept. 30 hearing to give Paxton time to take depositions from the defendants and from officials of The Ohio Plan; to strike Lambert's new-trial and dismissal motions; to "put (his) foot down" and refuse to allow Lambert to seek any further expert-witness testimony; and to finally order the defendants to come up with Paxton's attorney fees.

"It is unfair that defense counsel should be compensated in filing the multiplicity of documents before this court without the court also grant plaintiffs their reasonable attorney fees through the final date of the hearing in this matter," he maintained.


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