Summit County, probate judge, City of Akron pay $82,500 to settle excessive-force and malicious-prosecution lawsuit filed by courthouse social-worker
As of yesterday, all parties in Curtis Williams v. Summit County, et. al., Case No. 5:22-cv-01649-BMB, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, have reached settlement agreements to resolve the lawsuit. The case arose from a September 15, 2020 incident at the Summit County courthouse wherein the Plaintiff Curtis Williams, PhD, a court-appointed social-worker, was needlessly assaulted, tased, and tackled to the floor by courthouse police on the orders of the County probate judge, who had taken issue with Williams having entered a public area of this public building, during public hours, through what she deemed to be an unauthorized entrance. Williams was then falsely charged for trespass, disorderly conduct, and assault against the judge, and video from at least four surveillance cameras capturing the incident—that would have documented both the unconstitutional nature of the beating the police gave to this innocent man and the meritlessness of the criminal proceedings instituted against him—mysteriously disappeared.
While the underlying criminal charges were still pending against Williams, the prosecuting attorneys for the City of Akron told him they would dismiss the charges if he would write an apology letter to the judge and sign an agreement not to sue her or the County sheriffs who were involved in the incident. Williams could not in good conscience sign any such apology or agreement and instead retained the Pattakos Law Firm to beat the criminal charges. Then, after County officials refused to offer any settlement for the underlying violations of his Constitutional rights, Williams filed this civil suit in September of 2022.
In March of this year, presiding Judge Bridget Meehan Brennan rejected the probate judge’s motion to dismiss, which was based on the judge’s contention that her alleged actions were taken in her capacity as a private citizen, not “under color of state law,” thereby absolving her from liability for violating Williams’s constitutional rights. In rejecting these arguments, the Court held that the probate judge’s alleged conduct was “quintessential state action;” that she “did not merely report a rule violation,” but rather “physically endeavored to enforce a policy which she apparently believed prohibited Williams’ entry through the courtyard door.” Further, the Court noted that “most constitutional violations occur when officials abuse, overreach, or act outside their official authority.”
Last week, Summit County and the City of Akron agreed to pay $42,500 and $10,000, respectively, to resolve the claims asserted against them and certain of their employees in the suit. Yesterday, the County probate judge agreed to pay $30,000 to settle the claims against her, to fully and finally resolve the lawsuit.
“While we believe we would have recovered substantially more at trial, this was never about the money for Dr. Williams, who is glad to put this behind him now that the County, City, and judge finally agreed to a settlement that sufficiently reflects the seriousness of their violations of his constitutional rights and clears his name,” said Peter Pattakos, lead attorney for Williams. “Dr. Williams is known and admired throughout the local legal community for his exemplary work in serving Summit County’s most vulnerable residents caught up in the court system,” Pattakos added, “and while it should have never gotten this far, he now walks even taller in this community for his successful stand in this lawsuit for his and every American’s fundamental constitutional rights.”
This settlement represents the seventh time in the last four years that someone has either sued a Pattakos Law Firm client or charged one of our clients with a crime and ended up having to pay our client at least a five-figure sum as a result. We are proud to serve those falsely accused of crimes and other misconduct, and to hold false accusers responsible in civil lawsuits, including for malicious prosecution.