Thursday, November 02, 2000

County settles suit over stolen file for $460,000

Official: Security tightened, so repeat of incident unlikely

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A case file stolen from the Hamilton County Department of Human Services in 1997 will cost taxpayers $460,000 to settle a federal lawsuit.

        Attorney John Helbling represented a mother and her then-16-year-old daughter who were clients of DHS when another juvenile client stole their case file from a case worker's desk.

        The file ended up at a community center in their neighborhood. The girl who stole the file showed it to several people and then left it open at the center for anyone to see.

        “This is a file that is 8 inches thick with extremely personal, detailed information,” Mr. Helbling said. “The impact was absolutely horrendous. My clients were ridiculed in their community.”

        Mr. Helbling said the county's reaction was to ask for the file back. When his clients didn't immediately return it, the county sent a letter threatening prosecution if the file wasn't returned.

        “The county fought us tooth and nail on this and didn't want to do the right thing,” Mr. Helbling said. “Up until recently, they didn't even make an attempt to resolve this. They just ignored us.”

        Hamilton County Administrator David Krings said a DHS employee erred by leaving the case file on a desk, and that increased the county's liability in the case.

        Mr. Krings said security has been tightened and the facilities have improved so a repeat of this type of incident is unlikely.

        Carl Stich, chief assistant prosecutor for the county, said the settlement is one of the larger Hamilton County has been party to in recent memory. Earlier this year, the county settled a $5 million lawsuit dating to the 1980s, when then-coroner Frank Cleveland harvested corneas and other organs from bodies he autopsied.

        “Everything (Mr. Helbling) is complaining about happened a long time ago,” Mr. Stich said. “I don't really have any comment or any personal knowledge about the situations he's talking about.”


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