10/17/06 — Duplin asks attorney to talk about settlement in JAS suit

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Duplin asks attorney to talk about settlement in JAS suit

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 17, 2006 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Looking for a way out of a lawsuit filed against the county by Johnston Ambulance Services, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners decided Monday to allow its attorney to begin work toward a settlement.

In a closed session vote, the commissioners authorized county attorney Wendy Sivori to meet with attorneys from the county's insurance company and from JAS to begin discussing a resolution to the case.

"We need to put this to rest," said Commissioner Reginald Wells, who made the original suggestion for a meeting last month. "We just want to see where their mind is so we can wrap our minds around things. We want to know what it is they're seeking."

The non-emergency transport ambulance service filed suit against the county after former Emergency Medical Services Director Curtis Brock and former JAS employee Barbara Coman were charged in July with two misdemeanors -- illegally accessing Johnston's computers and computer trespassing. Brock and Ms. Coman also were named in the suit.

Brock and county Commissioner Larry Howard also were allegedly recorded by Dr. Thomas Hunter, owner of Coastline Care, as they discussed ways to force JAS out of the county. Johnston and Coastline, both of whom serve Duplin County, provide non-emergency ambulance services, whether between hospitals or from a patient's home to a doctor's office.

The lawsuit, however, is focusing on the proprietary information stolen from JAS's computers.

"It wasn't information that would have been out there for public consumption," said Charles Ellis, the company's attorney.

He explained that the suit was filed after results from an internal county investigation were not forthcoming.

"The reason the lawsuit was initiated was to find out what happened. Johnston Ambulance Services was as patient as any entity could be. They waited because they were advised by the county attorney that they would be investigating and would get back to us," Ellis said. "We went weeks very patiently without one answer, so they felt they had no choice but to file.

"The first goal is to investigate what happened, how it happend, why it happened and what happened to information stolen. We don't know how far the worm hole goes. We don't know what was done with the information. Those are all questions we want to have answered. We've clearly been damaged, but a great deal of the extent that we were damaged would depend on what happened to the information. The second goal is to make sure it doesnt happen again and to make sure the people involved are punished. "

Currently, though, the lawsuit is pending, after Ellis and JAS officials agreed to postpone depositions that were scheduled for earlier this month of Brock, Wells, Howard, former interim county manager Judy Brown and county medical director Dr. Hervy Kornegay Sr. The meetings were postponed at the county's request.

"There has been discussion that they (the county) would like to sit down and talk. We have been notified that their attorney would like to talk," JAS chief of operations Jeff White said.

He declined to speak further about the lawsuit, but said it wasn't affecting services in Duplin County.