Hilliard City Council on April 13 unanimously approved a resolution settling a complaint the city filed against Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP in connection with the city’s settled lawsuit against Heather H. Ernst, former deputy director the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department.
The city will receive a settlement of $40,000 from Taft Stettinius & Hollister as well as a discharge of its outstanding legal bill due to the firm, in the amount of $19,543, according to the agreement.
The agreement also includes mutual releases between Taft and the city, a confidentiality clause, a no-admission-of-liability clause and a nondisparagement clause.
According to a memo from City Manager Michelle Crandall, the settlement stems from a directive the city gave to Taft in summer 2018 to request a court order to prevent Ernst from selling her real-estate holdings.
At the time, Ernst was accused of stealing money from Hilliard and was the target of a criminal and civil complaint in which the city of Hilliard was the plaintiff.
In the criminal case, Ernst pleaded guilty in October 2018 to one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony, and one count of attempted tampering with records, a fourth-degree felony, and was sentenced to 12 months in prison in November 2018 and ordered to pay restitution of $271,898, plus court costs of $268.
Hilliard settled the civil lawsuit against Ernst in January that, when combined with the criminal-court order, equals $401,000 and remains short of the more than $500,000 investigators had accused Ernst of stealing from the city’s two pool facilities from May 2013 to fall 2017, according to city officials.
While both cases were active, Ernst and her family sold property.
According to the Franklin County Auditor’s Office, she and her husband, Moses Ernst, sold a residence at 4639 Schirtzinger Road for $375,000 in July 2018. That same month, Wilbur and Phyllis Ernst sold property at 4643 Schirtzinger Road for $475,000, according to records.
Advanced Drainage Systems, 4640 Trueman Blvd., purchased both properties, records show.
Records show a third property, a three-unit condominium at 4809 Farber Row in the Columbus portion of the Hilliard City Schools district, transferred in July 2018 from Heather and Moses Ernst to Perfection Properties of Ohio for $210,000.
“Taft did not make the request (for a court order to prevent such real-estate transactions), and the city and Taft dispute the reasons why this was not accomplished,” Crandall wrote in the memo.
City Council unanimously approved the resolution at its first and only reading April 13, said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.