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Beating victim awaits payment



Published: Sun, September 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A $1 million settlement is being contested in court by James Goins' court-appointed attorney.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Ronald Sovak thought it was bad enough when his elderly father was brutally beaten and left for dead by two teenage boys last year.

Now he thinks his father is getting roughed up again, only this time by lawyers and the court system.

"I can't figure it out," said Sovak, who lives near Cleveland. "One court says one thing and another court says another thing."

Sovak's father, William, was attacked outside his former home on Miller Street in January 2001 by James Goins and Chad Barnette. He was pushed back inside his house, where the boys, who were both 16 at the time, repeatedly beat and kicked him.

They dragged him down a set of stairs into his basement and locked him in a fruit cellar, where relatives found him later. William Sovak, who was 83 at the time, suffered injuries including broken ribs and multiple skull fractures. He was not interviewed for this story.

Goins and Barnette were both tried as adults and are serving more than 85 years apiece in prison. They were also convicted of beating and robbing a Marmion Avenue couple.

No longer able to care for himself after the beating, William Sovak was forced to sell his home and move into an assisted-living facility.

Filed civil suit

In March 2002, he filed a civil lawsuit against Goins and Barnette in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Atty. Sarah Thomas Kovoor, who represents Goins, agreed to settle on Goins' behalf for $1 million. The matter against Barnette is still pending.

Goins' settlement was to come from a trust fund that was established for Goins in 1991. It is funded with proceeds from a wrongful death claim for his father, who was killed in an industrial accident in Texas.

Ronald Sovak said the settlement, which was signed and approved more than a month ago by Judge Robert Lisotto, would not have been paid in a lump sum. A large payment was to have been made up front, with smaller monthly ones to follow.

"That first payment would really help us get caught up with Dad's expenses," Sovak said.

Being contested

The problem is that the settlement is being contested by another lawyer, who was appointed by the probate court to represent Goins in the civil case while he was a juvenile.

Atty. Scott Fowler says he was never consulted about the settlement and that it's invalid without his approval.

Kovoor has argued that since Goins is now 18, he should be free to hire his own lawyer and approve agreements such as the one with Sovak.

But Judge Timothy P. Maloney of probate court has ruled that because Goins is incarcerated, he is legally incompetent to handle his own affairs, even though he's an adult now.

"Because of the obligation I have been given by the probate court, they need my consent," Fowler said. "When you have a guardianship, the probate court runs the show."

Additional settlement

Fowler is also contesting another settlement in which Kovoor agreed to pay $10,000 to the county prosecutor's office to help cover the costs of DNA testing for the trial. Ohio law allows prosecutors to recover the costs of prosecution from defendants who can afford to pay.

That money, like William Sovak's, was to come out of Goins' trust account.

While all the matters are being sorted out in court, Ronald Sovak said his family is watching the bills pile up for his father's care. The settlement with Goins and Kovoor would have helped them tremendously.

"It goes a long way toward addressing the financial damages that took place," he said. "But they'll never have enough money to repay him for his pain and suffering."

Sovak's attorney, Andrew Suhar, said he can't understand why the settlement is being held up, especially given the circumstances of William Sovak's injuries.

"This is just an absolute travesty, the way they're treating this man," Suhar said.

Fowler said he isn't opposed to seeing the case settled, but has an obligation to speak out on Goins' behalf. He said there is another civil case pending against Goins from an unrelated shooting, in which the victim is also looking for a settlement.

"Once I was appointed by the probate court, my ethical obligations lie with Mr. Goins," he said.

bjackson@vindy.com




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