Lawsuit against county will be heard in Calhoun County

The case of a lawsuit against St. Joseph County, its board of commissioners, and the panel that oversees mental-health and drug-abuse services locally will be heard in a nearby jurisdiction.

Attorney Ross Chapman, representing Liz O’Dell, said St. Joseph County Circuit Court Judge Paul Stutesman recused himself from the case. As a result, the matter was assigned by the state court administrator’s office to Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge John Hallacy.

O’Dell, former director of the St. Joseph County Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, filed suit in November. She is claiming breach of contract, that her whistleblower rights were violated, wrongful interference with her employment contract, and unjust interference with her business relationship or expectancy with CMH.

Scheduling for trial will be up to Hallacy once the discovery phase has been completed. Chapman said his best guess for trial would be no sooner than the end of the year or possibly into early 2019.

CMH board members terminated O’Dell based on allegations of directing legal counsel to perform legal work, including the drafting of a lawsuit without the board’s approval or knowledge; holding and participating in meetings that violated the Open Meetings Act; directing CMH’s former chief finance officer to ignore the “ability-to-pay” rules under the Mental Health Code; and waiving the attorney-client privilege without board authorization by sending draft documents prepared by legal counsel to third parties.

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