RH board members#8217; appeal dismissed

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 30, 2006

CHILLICOTHE — Here they go again.

The Ohio 4th District Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal filed by three Rock Hill School Board members who were removed from office last year by a citizen group’s lawsuit.

The appellate judges said that it could not rule on the appeal filed by Lavetta Sites, Wanda Jenkins and Paul R. Johnson to retain their seats on the school board because the entire lawsuit that removed them had not been settled in the lower court.

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The appeals court said the lower court had not addressed the request from the plaintiffs that more than $61,000 in legal fees be paid by the county since those who filed the petition to remove the board members are Lawrence County taxpayers.

“The party who ultimately pays the attorney fees is largely irrelevant for purposes of determining if a judgment is a final appealable order,” the appeals court ruling stated.

“Judgments that determine liability, but not damages, do not constitute final appealable orders. … The fact remains that the attorney fees request is part of the appellees claim for relief and that claim has not yet been resolved.”

What happens now?

Visiting Judge Fred Crow, who presided over the civil trial, must now rule on who must pay those attorney fees. An even larger issue, perhaps, is how this latest maneuver affects the immediate makeup of the school board.

Although Jenkins won her seat back in an election weeks after losing that seat in the lawsuit, Sites and Johnson were returned to the board in January when their attorney, Steve Rodeheffer, filed an appeal to the jury verdict and asked Crow to grant a stay, permitting the two to return to their seats. Crow granted the request.

But this appeal and stay came two months after the lawsuit verdict and after the two then-remaining school board members, Troy Hardy and Jackie Harris, appointed Ora Cox, Kendall Kitchen and Rich Donohue to fill those seats.

Steve Rodeheffer, attorney for the three board members, said he thought his clients would keep their seats in spite of the latest development.

“The interesting aspect of this case is what happens to the stay that has kept Lavetta and Paul on the board,” he said.

“It was granted pending the ruling by the higher court. The possibility of an appeal is still out there and the stay was granted pending further order of the court,” Rodeheffer said.

But Austin Wildman, attorney for Citizens Against Poor Spending, the group which filed the lawsuit, had a different view.

He thought this latest development would return two of the appointed members to the table.

“If there is no final appealable order, there is no stay pending appeal because there is no appeal,” he said.

This is the latest round in a battle that has been waged in the school district for years.

In November 2003, Sites and Jenkins won seats on the board, tipping the balance of power away from supporters of longtime Superintendent Lloyd Evans, who has both strong supporters and equally ardent detractors.

Just before a board more favorably disposed to Evans left office, they granted Evans a two-year contract.

The new board with Sites, Johnson and Jenkins in power opted to non-renew Evans’ contract a few months later. Evans then filed a lawsuit.

A Lawrence County Common Pleas Court decision returned Evans to his job, but the board filed an appeal that was later dropped. The citizens group then filed its lawsuit to remove the three board members.