A lawsuit filed by a Summit County courthouse employee against the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office and a former assistant prosecutor who claimed the employee pushed him has been dismissed.
Courthouse employee Holly Trivett Fisher sued Kassim Ahmed, an assistant prosecutor who resigned following the incident, and the prosecutor’s office last July. She claimed defamation, slander, libel and emotional distress. She said she feared the loss of her job and was subjected to public ridicule.
Ahmed filed a report with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office in October 2017 about what he called an “unprovoked physical assault” by Fisher in a hallway at the Summit County Courthouse. Investigations by the sheriff’s office and the court deemed his complaint to be unsubstantiated and found that Fisher had merely bumped Ahmed.
The incident was captured in a courthouse video and was widely reported by the Beacon Journal and other media and discussed on social media.
Judge Robert Brown, a visiting judge appointed to the lawsuit, recently ruled that the suit should be thrown out. He said Ahmed and the prosecutor’s office are immune from civil liability under Ohio law. He also said Fisher failed to prove Ahmed’s statements were made with “actual malice” or “reckless disregard for the truth.”
To the extent Ahmed’s statements may have been exaggerated, Brown said, this “constitutes opinion or hyperbole, which is not actionable as a matter of law in Ohio.”
Brown is a retired judge from Wayne County.
Justin Greenfelder, Ahmed’s attorney, said he and his client were pleased with the judge’s decision. He declined further comment because of a potential appeal.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the ruling, saying his office “would let the judge’s decision stand on its own.”
Warner Mendenhall, Fisher’s attorney, said he was surprised and disappointed with the judge’s decision and likely will appeal.
“Obviously, the judge granted the county immunity, calling the statements simple exaggerations,” Mendenhall said. “The fact is, he [Ahmed] accused her of a crime and used county resources to try to pursue this. Beyond that, his statements were false. We think we have a decent appeal.”
At this stage of the lawsuit, Mendenhall said, the facts are supposed to be read in favor of the person filing the lawsuit. He thinks this will be a strong argument for the appeal.
Mendenhall said he believes even if the prosecutor’s office is immune, Ahmed is not.
Mendenhall noted that Brown referred to the incident as a collision and he and Fisher strongly disagree with this term.
“No one who has seen the video would ever say collision,” he said. “It’s a brush at most. It’s not a collision.”
Fisher was seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $25,000.
Mendenhall has said Fisher decided to file the lawsuit because of the lack of an apology from Ahmed or the prosecutor’s office. He said Fisher thinks if there hadn’t been a video she likely would have been prosecuted for assault and faced the loss of her job. He said she also is concerned this or something similar could happen to someone else.
Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, Mendenhall said he expected it to be appealed. He said this may take years to resolve, unless a settlement is reached.
“We’re going to get our ruling from appeals,” he said. “Maybe this sped the process up.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter@swarsmithabj.