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Case against the county dismissed

A federal district court dismissed former Stark County Veterans Service Officer Leslie Ross' case against the county. Stark County state's attorney Tom Henning informed the county commission Tuesday morning that the U.S. District Court for the Di...

Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning informed the county commission of the federal district court's dismissal of former Veterans Service Officer Leslie Ross' case against the county. Commissioner Dean Franchuk did not attend the meeting. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning informed the county commission of the federal district court's dismissal of former Veterans Service Officer Leslie Ross' case against the county. Commissioner Dean Franchuk did not attend the meeting. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

A federal district court dismissed former Stark County Veterans Service Officer Leslie Ross' case against the county.

Stark County state's attorney Tom Henning informed the county commission Tuesday morning that the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota ruled in favor of the county in the suit in February.

According to a document from Chief Judge Daniel L. Hovland, dated Feb. 14, 2017, the county voted to terminate Ross on Dec. 2, 2014, at a regular meeting after the commission learned that her accreditation with the National Association of County Veterans' Service Officers had been revoked "as a result of a dispute" with the North Dakota Department of Veteran Affairs.

"... It's been dismissed effectively, but it's actually been more than dismissed," Henning told the commissioners. "It's been summary judged in favor of the county... It means that looking at all of the facts and reviewing the law as applicable to this case, that there is no likelihood of the plaintiff in this case prevailing in her suit - that on its face, between looking at the complaint and looking at the response of the county and applying the appropriate statutes and case law, that there is no likelihood of prevailing on the part of Ms. Ross."

In the state district court, a party has an automatic right of appeal, but there is no such automatic right in the federal district system, he said. In order to continue the case, Ross would have to prove to the appellate court, the eighth circuit, that "the judge has completely blown this," and that the district court had exceeded its authority, Henning said. Ultimately, he believes this brings finality to the entire case.

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"This is a done deal in my opinion, and likelihood of any further review being very distant," he said at the commission meeting.

Ross said she is not yet sure if she will take further action on her case.

"The court did not say they did the right thing only that they found no violation of the 14th Amendment," Ross said in a statement to the Press. "The court did not even address Mr. Henning and the County Commissioners violating my (First) Amendment rights. I still am banned from the Courthouse, unable to utilize my veterans office and I am not allowed to talk to the VSO."

Commission chairman Jay Elkin said that he was happy the case was done and behind them.

"I firmly believed all along that the commission did the right thing all along in this process, but with that being said, she has every right to appeal it to a judge or whatever," Elkin said. "She did so, and what does concern me is lawsuits like this end up really costing taxpayers dollars, and there's no way that we can recoup that."

Henning said that, when the county is sued, it turns the case over to the North Dakota Insurance Reserve. The county has a policy with the insurance reserve that covers attorney fees up to $100,000, he said, noting that this case did not exceed or probably come close to that amount.

Commissioner Ken Zander pointed out that the county still has to buy the insurance and that its rates may increase because of its claim history. The county is filing an action to recoup expenses such as postage or printing expenses, which could amount to between $2,000 and $2,500 because of the timespan of the litigation, he said. But the county is unable to sue for attorney fees.

Zander and Elkin said the commission never faltered in its commitment to helping veterans through the entire ordeal.

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"This has been frustrating for veterans because the veterans are only concerned about veterans' benefits and the process for handling their claims," Zander said. "There was a lot of turmoil. There was a lot of nasty accusations made by the plaintiff party here that we weren't servicing our veterans, and that is absolutely false."

Related Topics: STARK COUNTY
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