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Class action suit filed against judges

A class action civil suit has been filed in a U.

Monday, March 05, 2001

A class action civil suit has been filed in a U.S. District Court against three Lawrence County judges and one Ironton attorney.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of certain legal proceedings occurring in the county.

Beth Pancake filed a lawsuit in the Southern Ohio District court in Cincinnati against Judges Frank McCown, W. Richard Walton, John Kehoe and attorney Carol Jean Hampton.

Pancake’s attorneys are asking the federal court to decide if the practice of granting ex parte injunctions violates the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

An ex parte injunction is a legal action that takes place without knowledge or representation by both parties of a case.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens and their property from "unreasonable search and seizure." The Fourteenth Amendment protects citizens from having "life, liberty, or property," removed from them without due process of law.

Jennifer L. Branch, an attorney from Cincinnati representing Pancake, said the judge’s actions of granting the ex parte injunction without a hearing violates these amendments to the Constitution. She said it is the responsibility of a judge to see that due process is given to all parties involved in a case.

Beth is seeking the federal court to make a decision on the legality of the state court’s granting ex parte injunctions without "exigent circumstances."

She is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages against Hampton in an amount that will be announced at trial, attorney fees and "additional relief as the Court deems just and proper."

This isn’t the first time county judges have been in court over granting ex parte injunctions.

In 1996, county judges and attorneys were sued for the same reason as this case. But in that case, the plaintiff attempted to receive money from the lawsuit. The case went to trial in 1998 and the federal judge ruled the county judge, Walton, was immune from suit and damages and the case was dismissed. The attorneys, however, were not immune from suit, but the case never went to trial because the attorneys settled out of court with the plaintiff.

According to research conducted by Beth Pancake’s attorneys, from October through December 2000, 33 injunctions were issued and since January to February 12, 2001; 11 injunctions have been filed.

Attempts were made to contact McCown, Kehoe and Hampton but were unsuccessful. Walton declined to comment on the case.