LIBERTY, Ohio (WKBN) – The Liberty Local School District’s Board of Education voted to settle a lawsuit stemming from a wiretap investigation by former Superintendent Joseph Nohra.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 against Nohra and the school district by Christine Gallaugher, Rick Svetlak, Dale Fuller, Karen Copenhaver, Leslie Danielle Diana, Francine DelBene and David Gallaugher. It centered around what the plaintiffs alleged was the “unlawful and unauthorized” interception of communications involving district employees and their family and friends.
Nohra faced criminal charges but was later found not guilty following a bench trial that ended in February. He had been indicted on 11 criminal charges in May 2021 in a case that was dismissed and later refiled after an appeal by prosecutors.
He had been accused of having a secret surveillance camera above an employee’s desk in April of 2018.
Nohra said he was trying to catch a worker accused of stealing from the district and argued that he had permission from the board and its legal counsel to conduct the investigation.
Investigators had said the device recorded the conversations of at least five people over a two-week period.
The charges against Nohra were filed after he left the school district in June 2020.
According to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the purchase of the camera was discovered by the Ohio Auditor’s Office following a whistleblower complaint filed by a Liberty school employee on an unrelated matter. The camera had been disguised as a carbon monoxide detector, the suit stated. The employee who was being recorded reported learning of the camera in July 2019 from detectives at the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office.
The plaintiffs — current and former employees, as well as a friend and family member of the employees — alleged that their conversations had been recorded without their knowledge, and some of their conversations included personal matters as well as union issues.
The school board on Monday unanimously agreed to move forward with the settlement agreement, which would pay out $35,000 total to the plaintiffs, with each receiving about $5,000, minus attorneys’ fees.
The board has maintained that it acted in accordance with the law and denied fault or liability, according to the terms of the settlement. Minutes from Monday’s meeting state that board members did not want the additional expense of going through a trial.