Heather H. Ernst, the former deputy director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, is scheduled to begin serving a 12-month prison sentence Jan. 2 after pleading guilty Oct. 3 to theft in office and tampering with records but the civil case against her has not reached closure.
According to Franklin County Court of Common Pleas records, her attorney, David A. Goldstein, on Dec. 5 requested permission from the court to withdrawal from her representation.
In a memorandum in support filed with the request, Goldstein wrote, "Ernst has failed to cooperate in the defense of her case," and after several failed attempts to communicate with Ernst, Ernst said she was terminating their legal relationship.
In his letter, Goldstein advises the court he has made Ernst aware of all order and upcoming assignment dates, including a discovery and requests for admissions due Dec. 17.
Judge Jenifer French granted the order Dec. 6, according to Court records.
Hilliard leaders filed a civil lawsuit against Ernst, 48, on March 15, and that complaint was amended in September to include her husband, Moses A. Ernst, as a co-defendant, according to common-pleas court records.
"While the criminal case has concluded, the city will continue with its civil case against Ms. Ernst to discover and retrieve every dollar that she stole and used for her own personal gain," Mayor Don Schonhardt said in a statement after she was sentenced Nov. 16.
The civil complaint said that during the course of Ernst's employment with the city, the "defendants retained at least $541,000, depositing at least $270,000 into accounts owned or controlled by the defendants."
Some of the deposits were made into a checking account owned by Moses Ernst, according to the complaint.
"Hilliard thinks there is more (money) but Hilliard can think what they want to think," Joe Edwards, Heather Ernst's attorney in the criminal proceedings, said in October after she pleaded guilty to one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony, and one count of attempted tampering with records, a fourth-degree felony.
Goldstein indicated that Ernst, in a Nov. 15 deposition for the civil case, one day before she pleaded guilty in the criminal case and upon advice of counsel, "invokes her Fifth Amendment privilege and refuses to answer" a series of questions related to the crimes of which she is accused.
The civil trial in the case of Hilliard against Heather H. and Moses A. Ernst is scheduled to begin trial Oct. 15, 2019.
According to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas website, Stephen Palmer and Edwards, both attorneys who represented Heather Ernst in the criminal trial, are listed as her counsel in the civil case.
The Tyack Law Firm is listed as counsel for Moses Ernst.
Hilliard is being represented by two firms, PetersonConners and Lane Alton.
In Ernst's criminal trial, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Cain on Nov. 16 ordered Ernst to a 12-month prison term, three years of community service and to pay restitution to Hilliard in the amount of $271,898. Cain did not levy any fines.
According to common-pleas court records, Ernst was required to pay court fees in the amount of $268.
A court entry indicates a bill was issued to Ernst in the amount of $272,166, or $268 greater than the restitution order, and it reflects the sum of the restitution order and the court costs, according to the office of fiscal services of the Franklin County Clerk of Courts.
When asked about that total, Hilliard law director Tracy Bradford said the restitution amount and court costs appeared correct.
Liz Rohm, manager of the fiscal services office, said Dec. 10 that Ernst had made partial restitution and has a remaining balance owed of $110,084.41.
A payment of $162,081.59 has been posted, Rohm said.
According to Franklin County Court of Common Pleas records, the restitution is to be made to the city of Hilliard through finance director David Delande.
As of Dec. 11, Delande said, the city had not received the payment, but he expects some lag time for the court to relay it to the city.
Ernst faced up to 4 1/2 years in prison and fines up to $15,000, according to a previous statement from Hilliard.
A Franklin County grand jury indicted Ernst on March 15 on eight counts that included one count of theft, a third-degree felony, one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony, two counts of tampering with records, a third-degree felony and four counts of filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax returns, a fifth-degree felony.
At the time of her resignation, Ernst was being paid an annual salary of $88,280.59 and had benefits valued at $43,155, according to the city.