Hilliard's civil suit against Heather H. Ernst, the former deputy director of the city's recreation and parks department convicted of theft in office, is scheduled for trial Monday, Jan. 13, according to Franklin County Court of Common Pleas records.
"I think attorneys for both sides have been diligently working to resolve (the civil complaint)," said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard. "Hopefully, what happens next is that both sides can come to a mutually acceptable resolution to this civil matter and that the city can continue moving forward."
She also still owes the city more than $100,000 in court-ordered restitution, Ball said.
Ernst, 49, was released Dec. 20 from the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
She has "no post-release control" and is not on parole, said Sara French, deputy communications chief for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, ending the criminal case against her. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction does not oversee compliance with court-ordered community service, French said.
Ernst entered a guilty plea Oct. 3, 2018, to one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony, and one count of attempted tampering with records, a fourth-degree felony.
She was sentenced to 12 months in prison Nov. 16, 2018, and began serving her sentence Jan, 2, 2019, according to records from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Judge David Cain had recommended three years of community service and that she be on post-release control, according to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.
However, for the "offense for which she was convicted, the PRC provision was not mandatory and is within the discretion of the parole authority whether or not it is required, and here that agency, for whatever good or bad reason, decided not to require PRC," O'Brien said.
Ernst also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $271,898, plus court costs of $268 for a total of $272,166, which prosecutors and Ernst's attorneys agreed upon as part of the settlement in the criminal trial.
However, in March 2018, Hilliard filed a civil lawsuit against Ernst – amended a few months later to include Ernst's husband, Moses, as a co-defendant – alleging 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."
Court proceedings had determined 271,898 had been stolen for "lifestyle spending," as Jeff Blake, an assistant prosecutor for the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office, said during an Oct. 3, 2018, hearing.
But Ernst had been accused by Hilliard investigators of stealing more than $500,000 in daily admission fees from the city's two pool facilities from May 2013 to fall 2017,
Common-pleas court records show attorney Jeff Madison of the Lane Alton law firm represents the city as the plaintiff in the civil lawsuit. Attorney Jonathan Tyack of the Tyack Law Firm was listed as representing defendant Moses Ernst and attorney Joseph Edwards was representing co-defendant Heather Ernst.
However, Edwards said Jan. 7 he currently does not represent Heather Ernst in any capacity.
According to court records, Stephen Palmer withdrew as Heather Ernst's attorney in August 2019; Palmer and Edwards had represented her in her criminal trial.
ThisWeek left messages for Madison and Tyack on Jan. 7 but did not receive responses by press time.
Judge Jenifer French is assigned to the civil trial, per court records.
A recently released forensic audit of Hilliard's finances dating back to 1996 revealed "negative anomalies" in the millions of dollars over the past two decades, according to city officials.
The audit provided a closer look at the amount of money believed stolen by Ernst; an initial audit was focused on business and accounting practices and provided recommendations for improving financial controls, he said.
The forensic audit, the results of which were released Oct. 28, was the second performed by the Schneider Downs firm, Ball said.
As of Jan. 3, Ernst still owed the city $109,813.90 in restitution, Ball said.
The city received a payment from Ernst in late 2018, in the amount of $162,082, a forfeiture of her Ohio Public Employees Retirement System fund, Ball said. One other small payment of $2.51 was made in August 2019, per court documents.
At the time of her resignation in late 2017, Ernst was being paid an annual salary of $88,281 and had benefits valued at $43,155, according to the city of Hilliard.