Liberty board agrees to settle wiretap suit
LIBERTY — The Liberty Local Schools Board of Education voted Monday to end litigation brought by seven people in July 2021 by agreeing to a settlement.
The case against the board was filed by Christine Gallaugher, Rick Svetlak, Dale Fuller, Karen Copenhaver, Leslie Danielle Diana, Francine DelBene and David Gallaugher.
The school district believes it is in its best interest to enter into a settlement agreement, for an early resolution of the litigation “to avoid unnecesarily expending valuable resources” by defending their position through trial, according to a board resolution.
The settlement would pay $35,000 total to the plaintiffs, with each receiving $5,000 from the district, according to Liberty Superintendent Andy Tommelleo.
Voting in favor of the settlement were president David Malone, vice president Diana DeVito, and members Kara Morgan and Shawn Chrystal.
The settlement awaits responses from the plaintiffs, represented by attorneys Mathew Blair and Thomas Wilson.
“I don’t think it would have gone that far unless the plaintiffs were in agreement to accept the settlement,” Wilson said about the board’s efforts to reach a final amount.
Former district Superintendent Joseph Nohra was found not guilty of six felony wiretapping charges and five misdemeanor counts of interfering with civil rights by Judge Ronald J. Rice of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Nohra is still a defendant, as is the district, in the civil suit, and the suit will be dismissed with prejudice if the settlement goes through, Wilson added.
In May 2021, Nohra was indicted in the case, which alleged he illegally wiretapped a school district office. Following Nohra’s original acquittal in December 2021, Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals reversed the decision back to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court last September.
Nohra admitted to placing a camera with audio inside of a carbon monoxide detector on the ceiling of the office of then-transportation secretary Christine Gallaugher for 10 days. The main question in the case was whether Nohra intentionally committed a crime in doing so. His attorneys, David Betras and Brian Kopp, argued that Nohra didn’t believe he committed a crime. The plantiffs, however, argued that four people’s rights to privacy were violated.
The camera placement came after Nohra suspected Gallaugher of stealing from the district. Nohra said he received permission from the school board and advice of the district attorneys, then he directed his technology coordinator to place the camaera in Gallaugher’s office in April 2018. The camera footage and audio would be accesible through Nohra’s cellphone.
Both retired district technology coordinator Anthony Daniels and former elementary principal Michael Butch Jr. testified that Nohra wanted to take the camera down after the first day of recording, “But upon the advice of the district attorney, they wanted to keep it up there for 10 days,” Butch said in court.
Nohra suspected Gallaugher of running a real estate business out of the office while working for the district, assistant Prosecutor Charles Morrow said in court. After Gallaugher retired in May 2018, and Nohra left the superintendent role in 2020, a civil lawsuit against Nohra and the district lingered over the hidden recordings. Gallaugher and the six other plaintiffs pursued the civil suit.