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Ross' lawsuit against Stark County could move to federal court

A civil lawsuit filed against Stark County by its former veterans service officer could be heading to federal court.

Leslie Ross was fired from the position in December by the Stark County Commission for alleged inappropriate conduct. Ross' immediate termination was decided unanimously at a county commission meeting that month, following a letter from the state's Department of Veterans Affairs office stating she had engaged in "unpleasant conversations" and "unprofessional emails" with another DVA employee.

In a court summons dated Aug. 20, Ross claimed she was terminated without cause and beyond procedure, violating her right to due process protected under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

She is seeking $360,000 in compensatory damages, which reflects her ending salary of $60,000 per year for six years, the amount of time she was a veterans service officer. She is also seeking $100,000 in consequential damages for bringing on the action.

The county has filed a response, which denies any wrongdoing or breach of protocol. The accusation of a constitutional amendment being violated prompted Stark County to make a motion to remove the lawsuit from the state's Supreme Court to federal district court.

After the DVA questioned Ross about her ethics last year, she reportedly used a friend's higher position in the department in an attempt to revoke the credentials of a Department of Veterans Affairs staff member Dan Thorstad, who had questioned Ross' ethics. As a result, the credentials of all of the state's DVA employees' were revoked, temporarily blocking them from accessing federal VA website information.

The DVA revoked Ross' credentials for her purported actions, which was never brought to the attention of the commissioners, nor Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning until the letter arrived. The commissioners moved to terminate her based on this choice of action, according to an earlier Press article.

Henning said that the motion now moves to the U.S. District Court, where it will decide whether the motion is appropriate. Attorney Mitchell Armstrong, whom Henning said handles Stark County's insurance matters, is legally representing the county in the case.

Ross' attorney Ward Johnson said he agreed with the motion, adding it likely puts the case in the hands "very top-quality judge."

"I actually think it's a good thing," he said.

Andrew Wernette

Wernette came to The Dickinson Press from his home state of Michigan in April 2015 as reporter for the newspaper's energy, political, crime, courts and cops beats. Before The Press, Wernette worked at his university's newspaper as a section editor, as well as interned at a local county paper as a reporter. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, writing, cooking, taking a stroll and planning his next world travel adventure.

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