It may be another year before the legal battle between Medina City Schools and former Superintendent Randy Stepp will go to trial.
The trial, which was scheduled for Sept. 28, was delayed Wednesday by Visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny. The judge opted to put a stay on the case until an appeal of one of his earlier rulings has been completed.
A representative of the 9th District Court of Appeals told The Gazette on Thursday that it could be up to a year before the case will be heard by appellate judges, and up to six months after that until the judges rule.
The appeal in the case concerns a request for summary judgment filed by Jim Shields, the school district’s human resources director and general legal counsel. Shields, who was named as a defendant in the case, had asked Pokorny to remove him from the lawsuit in April, and Pokorny denied his request last month.
The case, which began in 2013, centers on the school board’s move to fire Stepp after an audit by the state found more than $4,000 in what was termed illegal spending by Stepp and more than $1.5 million in spending that wasn’t properly documented or was said to have had no clear public purpose.
The audit was requested in the wake of public outcry over the school board awarding Stepp an $83,000 bonus and paying $172,000 in student loans that Stepp accrued before he became superintendent — all while the district sought to pass a levy for more public funding.
Stepp is suing the board for breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy. He names Shields as a defendant, as well as former Medina Board of Education members Karla Robinson, Susan Vlcek, William Grenfell and Charles Freeman.
In the lawsuit, members of the school board — all of whom have since been replaced, either due to retirements, resignations or decisions not to seek re-election — argued they had no idea public funds had been used to pay off Stepp’s student loan debt. Shields, who remains employed by Medina Schools, made similar allegations.
In Shields’ motion for summary judgment, he told the judge “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact that remains to be litigated with respect to plaintiff’s claims against Mr. Shields.”
Stepp responded a month later, said Shields should remain a defendant in the case, alleging he had made “false statements with knowledge of their falsity.”
“That is malice,” Stepp’s attorneys wrote.
The judge said in his ruling that there were too many disputed facts to dismiss the case against Shields.
“Plaintiff has submitted evidence, if believed, which would cause reasonable minds to differ,” Pokorny wrote.
Shields is not the only person involved in the case to appeal Pokorny’s decisions. According to court documents, the school board and a private citizen of the district have also appealed.