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County hopes to settle EMS dispute before court gets involved

Four months after the last mediation session was canceled, there will be another try at resolving the financial disposition of the now defunct Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services, an entity that was dissolved almost three years ago.

If that fails, then it will probably be in the hands of the court.

“The parties are attempting to mediate one more time before more extensive litigation,” Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson said.

In February parties from the three counties that once made up SEOEMS indefinitely postponed a scheduled meeting to determine who gets what assets of the EMS.

The mediation session was mandated by the Fourth District Court of Appeals following the filing of a lawsuit by Athens and Jackson counties against Lawrence County and a subsequent lawsuit by Lawrence against Athens, Jackson and SEOEMS.

The three counties operated SEOEMS for decades providing emergency medical service for its residents. However disbanding the service came about after Athens and Jackson county officials said they wanted to start their own services in 2010. Attempts to distribute assets have put Athens and Jackson at cross purposes with Lawrence.

At the heart of Lawrence County’s position is a state audit of the EMS that local officials showed the agency owed Lawrence County more than $300,000. Lawrence commissioners, led by then commission president Les Boggs, tried various means to get that money but with no success.

As the Lawrence commissioners fought to get that money, Jackson and Athens county commissioners countered by filing a suit in the court of appeals against Lawrence contending that county owed them a share of the SEOEMS dissolution costs. Anderson responded that the appellate court was the wrong venue and that Athens and Jackson do not have a valid claim.

On top of that, in May Lawrence County filed its own suit in common pleas court seeking more than $1 million in damages over what it alleges is the failure to reimburse the county for receipts paid over expenditures.

Anderson also filed a motion with the appellate court to dismiss the Athens and Jackson lawsuit. This week the court converted that motion into one for summary judgment, where the court determines whether any factual dispute exists. If there are not any factual disputes, the court can grant a judgment to either party. If there are factual disputes, the case could go to trial.

“Because of that it allows the parties to submit evidence,” Anderson said. “Because of this all three counties have agreed that the prosecuting attorney and one county commission will sit down together in one last attempt to resolve this without engaging in litigation.”

Current Commission President Bill Pratt is uncertain if anything of significance will come from the upcoming mediation session.

“I don’t have high hopes for that,” he said. “It is unfortunate it couldn’t be mediated. Apparently the two counties feel they have as strong a position as Lawrence County does.”