FAYETVILLE — Washington County officials Monday approved a $25,000 settlement in a breach of contract lawsuit filed against the county by the former insurance chief.
The Quorum Court Finance and Budget Committee has unanimously voted to send an ordinance allocating $25,000 to the Quorum Court on May 18.
The magistrate agreed to the proposed settlement after hearing a report from Jason Owens, the attorney representing the county. It is being brought on behalf of their company, Arkansas Risk and Insurance Services, Inc. The company had been providing employee insurance services to the county for years prior to the deal, Owens said. In early 2022, he was fired by then-County Judge Joseph Wood.
Owens said the lawsuit in U.S. District Court began with multiple claims, including breach of contract, alleging political retaliation for a series of social media posts in 2018. He said all claims except breach of contract have been dismissed. After a motion for summary judgment was filed on behalf of the county, only the breach of contract motion remained.
Owens said the contract contained language that the driver interpreted to mean that the term of the contract was “indefinite”. He said he found a contract signed by former county judge Marilyn Edwards and Wood containing the same language. , the breach of contract claim was left pending a decision in court.
Owens told the peace judge that the settlement had been reached at the conference and represented a balance between the potential risks and the cost of proceeding with the trial. If successful, the costs could double. If the county loses the lawsuit and loses again on appeal, the costs could be as high as $75,000. He said the case will now go to trial on June 20 if no settlement is reached.
“Some money is going to be spent regardless of what decision is made,” Owens told the magistrate.
District 13 magistrate Willie Lemming said he blamed the former county government for not keeping the magistrate informed.
“As JP, we weren’t told this was going to happen,” Lemming said of his contract termination. “Nothing was said until everything was done. It’s sad that we have to do this. But we have to do this. It’s wise to save everything that can be saved.”
District 5 Justice of the Peace Kyle Lyons agreed that a settlement was the best solution given the potential costs to the county.
“If you win, it’s $10,000 to $12,000, and the appeal is just over $24,000,” Lyons said. “If you lose, it’s $72,000 or more.”
The Lyons filed a motion to take the Settlement Ordinance to a quorum court with a “Do-Pass” recommendation, which was unanimously approved and attended by Beth Koger.
water damage repair
Washington County received $100,000 in initial settlement of insurance claims for damages suffered by the county court in the 2022 Christmas Eve floods. County Judge Patrick Deakins said the county is awaiting insurance money and $100,000 will allow work to begin repairing the ground floor of the courthouse. We removed about 2 feet of sheet rock from part of the building and took steps to keep mold out of the building.
Source: Washington County