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Civil case against sheriff headed to pre-trial

The civil sexual harassment case against Harrison County Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick and the Harrison County Board of Commissioners will go to a pre-trial hearing in federal court later this week.
Dispatcher Deana Decker and former dispatcher Melissa Graham filed sexual discrimination complaints in May 2008 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found the claims credible and ordered the parties to begin settlement talks.
The case went to mediation last Wednesday, but those talks broke down with Governmental Interinsurance Exchange, Charles W. Miller, the attorney for the two women, said. A second mediation session Thursday was canceled.
‘After Wednesday, it was apparent we were not going to be able to reach a resolution of the claim and we went ahead and canceled the second day,’ Miller said. ‘I made clear to the defendants and their attorney and adjusters we were prepared to go forward and take this case to trial and let a jury decide a fair value of what the plaintiffs should receive.
‘In some cases, you have to let a jury decide, and this appears to be one of those situations,’ he said.
A hearing on the civil case is set for 1 p.m. Friday at the U.S. District courthouse in New Albany.
‘To be frank, I don’t think there’s really any opportunity for this case to settle this Friday,’ Miller said. ‘We’re going there in good faith. We’ve (shown) our desire to the judge with our motion that if we’re not able to resolve the matter, particularly during the mediation session, we would like to use our time with him to create a new discovery schedule so we can go forward with setting up for trial.’
Deatrick’s personal attorney and friend, Bart M. Betteau, who is not involved in the civil case, said he was encouraged by last week’s impasse.
‘That tells me there’s a reason the county is not willing to pay,’ Betteau said. ‘We’re assuming there won’t be anything that comes of this.’
Jeremy Dilts of Carson, Boxberger LLP in Bloomington is representing the county’s defense. He said yesterday he plans to vigorously defend the case on behalf of the commissioners and county council. Dilts declined to offer his take on the proceedings due to confidentiality agreements, saying only that the case didn’t settle and that he’s ready for Friday’s conference.
The original complaint, which was filed in May 2008, alleges that Deatrick subjected Decker and Graham to sexual harassment by, among other things, touching them in a sexual and offensive manner and making sexually-charged comments to them.
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Deatrick in March, alleging that he discriminated against the two women. After the lawsuit was announced, Miller said he would seek $6.25 million in damages for each woman if the suit went to trial; however, he offered to settle for $2.5 million for Decker and $2 million for Graham.
Miller said yesterday that if everything goes as planned, he’s hopeful to set a trial date for early-to-mid-2010.
‘I say that knowing we’re going to have to conduct 25 to 30 additional depositions besides what’s already been done,’ Miller said. ‘The sooner the better from our perspective.’