Former Medina Schools Superintendent Randy Stepp filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the district and former school board members, accusing them of breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy.
The new lawsuit, filed in Medina County Common Pleas Court, was expected. Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed similar claims contained in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.
The judge ruled the issues raised in Stepp’s suit were questions of state — not federal law — and belonged in common pleas court.
Stepp filed the federal suit in May 2013 after the board placed him on administrative leave the month before and ordered a special state audit into his spending. They also voted to terminate a contract they approved in January 2013 that awarded Stepp an $83,000 bonus.
In October, the school board voted to fire Stepp after the audit found more than $4,000 in illegal spending by Stepp and more than $1.5 million in spending that wasn’t properly documented or had no clear public purpose.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday names the Medina school board, former board members Karla Robinson, Susan Vlcek, William Grenfell and Charles Freeman, and human resources director Jim Shields, who also serves as general counsel for the district.
The case was assigned to Visiting Common Pleas Judge Thomas Pokorny.
At a status conference Wednesday, Pokorny said he would combine Stepp’s new suit with a suit filed in July 2013 by Medina attorney J.R. Russell, according to Russell’s attorney Maryanne Chandler.
Russell’s suit accuses the school board and Stepp of violating state Sunshine Laws when they approved Stepp’s contract in January 2013.
Russell had filed a motion in federal court to have his allegations considered in Stepp’s federal suit against the board. Board members named in the federal suit also filed paperwork with the federal court stating they supported Russell’s motion.
Chandler said they expected the case to move back to common pleas court, but weren’t sure if Stepp’s attorney would file claims as a countersuit to Russell’s 2013 suit or as a new case.
“We all expected to be back here. It was just a question of how it would work,” she said. “My understanding is the cases will be consolidated or in some manner handled together.”
Chandler said Pokorny, who postponed action on Russell’s lawsuit pending the outcome of the federal case, now will consider the merits of Russell’s case.
“The question is whether Mr. Russell has standing to bring this complaint, and of course we believe any person can raise a claim of a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” she said.
In a judgment entry filed Wednesday, Pokorny directed Russell’s attorneys to file future paperwork under the same case number as Stepp’s suit.
Pokorny also set a timeline for court filings that require all motions and replies be filed by June 1, 2015. A trial date is set for Sept. 28, 2015.