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Posted August 16, 2012 | comments 4 Comments

Ex-SAAA chief bankrupt

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging had reason to settle a legal battle with its former chief -- she's bankrupt.

Helen Marie Cockrell, of Rileyville, Page County, and her husband, Stanley Scott Cockrell, filed a voluntary petition under chapter 13 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Harrisonburg on Friday. Earlier that day the SAAA board voted to settle a civil lawsuit Helen Cockrell filed against the agency for wrongful termination. The agreement also settles the agency's counterclaim. No money would change hands under the settlement.

SAAA attorney William E. "Bill" Shmidheiser III issued a press release Tuesday stating that Cockrell signed the agreement Friday.

"However, Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging recognizes that in Helen Cockrell's financial position, she is unlikely to ever be able to make any significant payment to {the SAAA] regardless of the amount of the Judgment against her," Shmidheiser states in the release. "In the opinion of {the SAAA] because of the nature of the cause of her termination, she is unlikely to be employed again in an executive position, or in any position of trust, and so her future ability to make money is limited."

The attorney cites the bankruptcy filing as confirming "the wisdom of the decision of [the SAAA] not to pursue the matter further. Shmidhesier would not comment further when asked Thursday whether a bankruptcy filing would have protected her against SAAA's lawsuit. The bankruptcy filing documents indicate the Cockrells have assets and liabilities of between $500,001 and $1 million. The Cockrells had filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 13 in December 2009 but a judge dismissed the case a month later.

Shmidheiser notes any effort to pursue the matter to a judgment would require the agency to incur substantial attorney and accountant fees -- expenses the SAAA board does not think it could recover from Helen Cockrell even if awarded by the court. Such action would be "detrimental" to the mission of the SAAA, according to Shmidheiser.

The settlement calls for the money owed to Cockrell for unpaid vacation and sick leave to offset against the amount the agency claims she misappropriated, Shmidheiser explained.

"[The SAAA] has turned all of its evidence over to the Commonwealth Attorney and Virginia State Police and hopes that the matter will be pursued by those authorities," the release states.

Board Chairman John Hudson said after the panel voted to settle the lawsuit the members felt they did not want to continue spending the agency's money pursuing the case. Hudson called the settlement a "parting of the ways."

Cockrell, represented by attorney Robert Zelnick, filed a complaint in Warren County Circuit Court on Oct. 26 against the SAAA alleging the agency had improperly fired her. Cockrell claimed the agency owed her the balance of her salary per an employment agreement and accrued, unpaid vacation and sick leave. Cockrell sought $150,000 in damages plus interest and court costs. Cockrell subsequently reduced the amount sought in the lawsuit to $20,000.

As Shmidheiser explained in the release, Cockrell's employment agreement entitled her to receive the balance of her contract salary through Nov. 1, 2012, unless the agency fired her for cause. The agreement "narrowly defined" cause as "'the misappropriation of any of Employer's funds or property.'"

The SAAA filed a counterclaim against Cockrell alleging she had embezzled or converted the agency's funds for her own purpose, plus a claim for the expenses of the investigation, punitive damages and attorney's fees.

The case had been scheduled to go to trial Oct. 30.

"Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging believes that, had the matter gone to Trial, [SAAA] would have been to prove in Court the allegations it made against Helen Cockrell in its Counterclaims," Shmidheiser states in the release.

4 Comments | Leave a comment

    Since I don't win or lose I'm not invested in this case but it is yet another example of the system failing. Embezzlement or misappropriation of funds is an offense punishable by some very harsh penalties. But then, why shouldn't she get by with it. Poor thing is broke. The elderly for whom the funds were intended can do without.
    What about the others dismissed by the SAAA for their parts in this?
    There was a fox in the hen house.

    Helen still has her retirement from the Air Force, which I am sure is a hefty sum and I forgot about that when I posted that on the earlier posting. Why can't that be taken from her and paid back to the SAAA a little at a time for the rest of her life?????? Maybe the State Police can do that for the Seniors.

    Anyone interested in what Helen Cockrell is doing?

    take a look at this http://helencockrellonagingwell.wordpress.com/2012/08/

    Brian,I will contact you.....Helen needs to be punished,and not with a slap on the wrist."broke" Helen has started a business helping(????) seniors'Go to the web site linkedin....pretty picture and all..She left out the years working for SAAA wonder why?..why is SAAA not willing to go to court?Hiding something they do not want made public....could Helen reveal something not complimentary to the staff....Well Fred you were right all along..Plea deal!!!!Please State Police,DO SOMETHING!!!!!!Put her where she belongs,and I do not mean community service!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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