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Appeals court gives green light to Stepp lawsuit

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    Former Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp.

    GAZETTE FILE

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The 9th District Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a lawsuit brought by former Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp against the school board who fired him can proceed.

Stepp is suing for breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy. Named in his suit are Jim Shields, the school district’s human resources director and general legal counsel, as well as former Medina Board of Education members Karla Robinson, Susan Vlcek, William Grenfell and Charles Freeman.

In their appeal, the former board members argued visiting Medina County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Pokorny erred by denying their motion for summary judgment on Stepp’s claims because they are entitled to immunity as employees of a political subdivision. The appeals court, in a decision signed by Judge Julie A. Schafer, disagreed.

Shields asked Pokorny to remove him from the lawsuit in April 2015. Pokorny denied his request last month.

Shields appealed Pokorny’s decision to deny him a separate motion for summary judgment on Stepp’s claims. The appeals court also denied his appeal.

Stepp’s attorney, Michael J. Matasich, said Monday the appellate decision is a “complete victory.”

“The court sided with Randy Stepp on all issues the defendants raised on appeal,” he said via email. “The court of appeals held that the individual defendants must stand trial for their conduct. The next step will be to get a trial date and try the case.

“Randy is looking forward to finally having his case heard by a fair and impartial jury. We are confident we will prevail.”

Attorneys Jonathan D. Greenberg and Eric J. Johnson, representing the defendants, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Stepp case began in 2013 when he was fired after a state audit 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.

In requesting summary judgment, members of the school board — all of whom have since been replaced, either due to retirements, resignations or decisions not to seek re-election — said they had no idea public funds had been used to pay off Stepp’s student loan debt. Shields made similar assertions.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.


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