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Posted August 10, 2012 | 9 Comments
SAAA seeks to settle suit with ex-chief
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging board agreed Friday to settle a legal battle with its former executive director.
Board members voted unanimously at their meeting to settle the lawsuit filed by Helen Cockrell and the agency's countersuit against the former top official. The board discussed the matter in closed session with their attorney, William Shmidheiser, for more than an hour before coming back into the open meeting to approve the motion to settle with Cockrell.
The agency terminated Cockrell Sept. 8 after the discovery weeks earlier of nearly $265,000 in unmailed checks to vendors. The situation put the SAAA on the financial skids and prompted the agency to revise many of its policies.
Board member James Brinkmeier made the motion to "settle the civil suit [with Helen Cockrell] due to the continued drain on finances, but ask the state police and the commonwealth's attorney here that they continue the criminal investigation and pursue justice for SAAA."
Details of the settlement were not available Friday.
"We're not agreeing to pay anything," board Chairman John Hudson said after the meeting. "This is a parting of the ways where we feel like extra money spent is not going to bring a return to the agency."
Hudson told reporters that Shmidheiser plans to issue a press release early next week outlining the settlement in more detail.
"Settlement does not indicate we're paying anything, I can tell you that," Hudson said. "We do not want people to think that that was a result of this decision.
"And it boils down to our understanding that there is -- we're at a point of diminishing returns at this point," Hudson said. "This was going to cost us additional funds to prepare for trial on Oct. 30 and, for us, significant funds as it would anyone to prepare over a two-month period."
Hudson explained the agency does not have a large source of funds to cover attorneys and accounting fees or the cost of the forensic investigation related to the legal battle. The agency covers the costs through its unrestricted funds which makes up a small portion of its revenue, according to Hudson.
Cockrell, represented by Woodbridge attorney Robert Zelnick, filed a lawsuit Oct. 26 in Warren County Circuit Court claiming the agency owed her $150,000 in damages over her termination. Cockrell later reduced the amount sought in the lawsuit to $20,000 for unpaid leave. The agency filed a countersuit against Cockrell over the finances.
McIntyre filed a separate lawsuit against the agency which sought more than $2 million in damages. McIntyre claimed agency officials defamed her by speaking to newspapers about her dismissal, which she argues arose not for any mishandling of funds but out of SAAA's policies governing the use of credit cards. The lawsuit in Warren County remains active though no trial has been scheduled, according to court records.
Authorities have not announced a conclusion to their ongoing investigation into the financial issues which occurred last year.
The legal battle has cost the agency $50,343.11 thus far, according to Jonathan Price, director of fiscal operations. However, another $82,688.06 in attorneys fees and other costs remains outstanding, according to Price.