MANSFIELD — The Fifth District Court of Appeals disagreed with Judge James DeWeese’s ruling in a defamation suit against Richland County Children Services Executive Director Randy Parker.
DeWeese, a Richland County common pleas judge, dismissed sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff McBride’s suit in December, saying he did not have a valid case. DeWeese said McBride’s complaint was devoid of facts to support his allegations of malice.
The appellate court, in a ruling issued Wednesday, said McBride did allege sufficient facts which, if proven, could overcome any legal immunity Parker might have.
Under Ohio law, an employee of a political subdivision is immune from liability unless the employee’s acts or omissions were done with malicious purpose, in bad faith or in a wanton or reckless manner.
McBride, who spent 21 years working with Richland County Children Services investigating crimes against children, was removed from that post in March 2011. He raised claims of defamation and interference with contract against Parker. McBride’s complaint said Parker made published statements that McBride was a disruptive influence on Children Services, had inappropriate discussions with staff, was “sloughing” off and was guilty of other dishonest conduct.
McBride’s suit said Parker’s statements were false, hurt his reputation and adversely affected his career.
The court of appeals heard arguments from both sides in an April hearing. Judge William Hoffman seemed to be leaning in McBride’s favor when he referred to McBride’s complaint and the alleged false statements.
“That seems to give evidence of malice,” he said. “Do you have to say he threw an egg at the guy’s house to prove these statements? I don’t know what else you have to do.”
Attorney William McIntyre, representing McBride, is seeking a trial.
Last month, the Children Services board voted 6-4 to place Parker on paid administrative leave. Board members have yet to give a reason behind the move, but indicated at a special meeting Thursday they are considering replacing Parker.