BATAVIA, Ohio (July 17, 2019) — Clermont County Commissioners have agreed to a settlement in a case filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, captioned Hicks v. Clermont County Board of Commissioners et al., S.D. Ohio Case No. 1:17-cv-00677. (“Federal Action”).
Mr. Christopher Hicks sued the County and others claiming they did seven things wrong. Five of the claims were dismissed, three by the judge and two Mr. Hicks dismissed himself. Mr. Hicks was requesting money to pay his attorney fees and some money for himself.
The two remaining claims related to a July 26, 2017 Commissioners meeting and the Rules of Procedure for Commissioner Sessions.
Prior to the July 26, 2017 Commissioners meeting, Mr. Hicks had spoken at two other Commissioners meetings. The morning of July 26, 2017, before the Commissioners meeting, Mr. Hicks sent an email to the Commissioners advising what he wanted to speak about at the meeting. At the Commissioners meeting, then Board President, David Uible, under the belief that Mr. Hicks wanted to speak about things that he had spoken about previously and things that were not germane to County business, did not permit Mr. Hicks to speak. When Mr. Hicks was asked to be seated, he refused and was removed from the meeting.
The claim related to the Commissioner’s Rules of Procedure for Session was specific to the language in the Rules that contained language used in Ohio law relating to the disturbing a lawful meeting.
The settlement agreement authorized by the Board of County Commissioners on July 17, 2019, states that the Clermont County Board of Commissioners admit that, while not being disruptive, Mr. Hicks’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated when he was not given permission to speak during public participation and was removed from the Board Session meeting on July 26, 2017. The Board of Commissioners will be enjoined from removing persons from a Board Session meeting on the grounds that the person made an utterance, gesture, or display which outrages the sensibilities of the Board and from authorizing the Board President to determine whether a speaker’s remarks outrage the sensibilities of the Board at a session meeting. Those restrictions are of no consequence in that the relevant language was previously removed from the Board Rules in January 2019.
In addition, his attorneys and Mr. Hicks will receive $145,000 for attorney fees and compensatory damages and $1,500 for court costs and Hicks’ expenses in the Federal Action.
Clermont County Board President, David Painter stated, “It’s very unfortunate that in today’s world we can’t talk out our differences. Lawsuits have become the medium whereby discussions are held and great wealth is obtained from the pockets of tax payers.” (Video of Commissioner Painter’s comments will be available on www.clermontcountyohio.gov.)
The County has been advised that Judge Timothy S. Black, U.S. District Court; Southern District of Ohio will file a contingency dismissal of the lawsuit as a result of the settlement.