By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
Former Sheriff Nelson O’Donnell has responded to a recently filed lawsuit claiming he improperly fired two people, including the son of the prior sheriff, after O’Donnell was elected to office in 2006.
Kyle Cochran and Whitney Maupin originally filed the lawsuit in federal court in 2011, however it was dismissed in February, according to court documents. Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood ruled that the statute of limitations had expired, and also the complaint did not have any remaining federal questions concerning the state law claims.
Cochran and Maupin refiled the lawsuit May 18 in Madison Circuit Court. They allege that they were wrongfully discharged from their positions with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office because they supported former Sheriff Dude Cochran in his bid for re-election.
O’Donnell defeated Cochran by just 74 votes in the May 2006 primary and went on to win the November election. Cochran and Maupin state they were fired Dec. 22, 2006. They also claim they previously had never been disciplined or had an adverse action taken against them related to their work performance, according to the complaint.
Cochran and Maupin are asking for back pay, future pay and compensation for lost benefits, including pension and retirement benefits. They also are asking for compensation in connection with the “damage to their reputations and emotional distress.”
They were wrongfully fired for “merely expressing their protected political and personal beliefs and opinions,” and it is unlikely they will find similar employment, according to the complaint.
O’Donnell, sued in both his official capacity as former Madison County Sheriff and in his individual capacity, is asking Circuit Court Judge William Clouse to dismiss the lawsuit. He argues in a June 5 motion that Maupin and Cochran have failed to show they were wrongfully discharged in violation of Kentucky law.
O’Donnell’s motion states that Kentucky courts have held that the state’s constitution “does not define a clear public policy prohibiting discharge on free speech or association grounds ...”
Because Madison County does not have a deputy sheriff merit board, the employment protections detailed in state law does not extend to Cochran and Maupin, the dismissal motion states.
Finally, O’Donnell argues that he cannot be sued in his official capacity, which is essentially that same as suing the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, because he was not sheriff at the time the suit was filed.
In addition, Cochran and Maupin have signed an agreement with current Sheriff Jerry Combs to not bring charges against the current Madison County Sheriff’s Department. A copy of the agreement was included with the motion to dismiss.
Combs, Cochran and Maupin are all represented by the same Richmond attorney, Jerry Gilbert. O’Donnell is represented by D. Barry Stilz of Lexington.
A motion hour is scheduled in the case at 9:32 a.m. July 5 in Madison Circuit Court.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed@