WASTE WATCH: Costly Sangamon County Case
Updated: Monday, February 17 2014, 01:19 PM CST
Sangamon County has spent $2.4 million to defend a lawsuit that hasn’t even made it to court. It revolves around a jail inmate who died in 2007.
Amon Paul Carlock worked as “Klutzo the Clown” at an orphanage in the Philippines. He was a community volunteer, former Springfield police officer and father.
The 57-year-old was also charged with having child porn and traveling to have sexual conduct with minors, after U.S. Customs officers say they found pictures of naked boys and girls on Carlock’s camera and computer when he returned from the Philippines. Federal officials say he allegedly had sexual conduct with at least three boys.
Carlock was arrested and booked into the Sangamon County Jail in October 2007. About five weeks later on November 16, 2007, jailers tasered him when he reportedly resisted going to Saint John’s Hospital. Carlock died at the hospital a short while later. A coroner’s jury couldn’t determine an official cause of death because Carlock had other health problems.
In March of 2008, Carlock’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the county and those who were responsible for Carlock’s care during his stay at the jail. Jon Robinson, the attorney for the Carlock family, said, “The facts here indicating medical abuse and physical abuse of Mr. Carlock are strong. We have an eyewitness who’s saying [Carlock] was abused physically."
The case has become Sangamon County’s most expensive lawsuit ever. As of January 1 of this year, Sangamon County has spent $2,465,163.16 on the lawsuit - mostly from legal fees. County administrator Brian McFadden tells ABC News Channel 20 the county is paying for four sets of attorneys because it was part of a contractual agreement with doctors and officers who worked at the jail.
Andy Ramage and a team with Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP represents the county, the sheriff, correctional officers and nurses named in the lawsuit.
The county has its own legal staff in the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office. With 51 employees and a budget of more than $3.5 million, why not use an in-house attorney? County leaders say the office doesn’t have one who specializes in civil litigation.
"They’re very good at putting bad guys in jail, but this isn’t what this case is about. This is about defending the county in a civil matter that includes very complex issues of medical malpractice and use of force, and it’s in federal court and the state’s attorney’s office is not in federal court. They’re in state court primarily; so we felt with this type of case, we needed expertise to bring in,” McFadden said.
The cost of Carlock case continues to grow. The county has paid for it from an insurance liability fund, used primarily for workers compensation claims and legal funding.
“In the last five or six years, it began to draw a negative balance, primarily because of legal fees. Just recently, the county went out for additional bonds. We borrowed $8 million in bonds to put into the fund,” said McFadden.
In the past, Sangamon County has settled inmate death cases, like that of Maurice Burris, who died the month after Carlock. The county settled that case for $60,000. Yet the county has spent millions on the Carlock case, before it even goes to trial.
Robinson said, “Everyone recognizes the costs are just outrageous, but it hasn’t been for a lack of the Carlock family trying to engage in some reasonable settlement discussions.”
McFadden says while county leaders constantly evaluate the cost of this lawsuit, there’s no set limit to how much they’ll spend to defend it.
“We feel the best long-term strategy is to incur the legal fees and fight these cases because we don’t want to set up the precedent down the road that you can get a quick $500,000 to sue the county and they’ll pay you to go away," McFadden said.
Since Paul Carlock died in 2007, the county has changed its contractor for medical services and changed contracts with medical personnel; so that if they are sued, the contracted employee has to pay for legal counsel, rather than the county. No trial date has been set for the Carlock case, because the county appealed part of the lawsuit and a judge ordered hearings for lawyers to attempt a settlement.