Law firm pays county $10,000 in settlement of jail case

July 17, 2014
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The Washington County commissioners often present or receive giant facsimile checks, but this week, a lawyer delivered the real thing to the tune of five figures.

Edmond Joyal Jr., who represented the county in an unsuccessful federal case brought by David D. Wise, 33, of Washington, over alleged mistreatment at Washington County jail, said he considers the $10,000 settlement payment unprecedented in the Western District of Pennsylvania, part of the Third Circuit in the federal judicial system.

On Thursday, the commissioners approved a settlement and release agreement involving the county, law firm Cohen and Wilwerth and attorney Kevin W. Tucker. The county had asserted claims for costs, legal fees and other sanctions in response to legal actions taken by attorneys Lawrence Fisher and Tucker as members of the firm that brought suit against the county on behalf of former jail inmate Wise, who suffers from epilepsy.

Wise was serving a sentence for homicide by vehicle July 16, 2010, when he experienced a seizure. He claimed his treatment was delayed because jail Capt. Michael King did not immediately call 911. But an inmate who claimed he saw mistreatment of Wise could not have seen what he said he did, Joyal informed Washington County Prison Board after the April trial.

Wise named several jail employees and the county as defendants, but the number of defendants was drastically reduced as the case progressed. Ultimately, the court found in favor of the county.

Joyal, on behalf of the county’s insurance carrier, sought sanctions against those who brought and handled Wise’s case. The $10,000 will be applied toward the county’s $25,000 deductible.

Joyal also said he plans to file a separate motion against Fisher, asking for sanctions for participating in a frivolous lawsuit.

“We’re pretty happy with it,” Joyal said. “And we’ll see what happens. There have been a lot cases where people have tried to get them. Judge (Nora Barry) Fisher is probably going to have to write an opinion.”

The county’s attorney said he focused primarily on the costs to defend the suit, such as fulfilling requests for documents, preparing evidence, giving depositions and spending time in the U.S. courthouse during the trial.

Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan told Joyal, “This is a good step” because in other suits by jail inmates, the county’s insurance carrier has forced the county to settle, even though officials wanted the opportunity to defend the county in court.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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