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Indian Hill mansion fire case heading for trial

Published: Sunday, August 20, 2017 @ 2:00 PM


            More than 80 firefighters worked Jan. 10, 2014, to put out the blaze that swallowed a 10,000-square-foot residence in Indian Hill. BRYCE ANSLINGER/WCPO
            BRYCE ANSLINGER / WCPO
More than 80 firefighters worked Jan. 10, 2014, to put out the blaze that swallowed a 10,000-square-foot residence in Indian Hill. BRYCE ANSLINGER/WCPO(BRYCE ANSLINGER / WCPO)

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott has set aside up to 20 days for an Oct. 10 jury trial that could unravel some of the remaining mysteries from a 2014 fire that destroyed an Indian Hill mansion and spawned a $60 million lawsuit.

Homeowners Jeffrey and Maria Decker are trying to force Chubb National Insurance Co. to cover damages from the fire of undetermined origin at 9645 Cunningham Road. The damage claims have been revised downward since the lawsuit was filed in 2015.

MORE: Homeowner’s pacemaker data can be used in Middletown arson trial

The Deckers are now seeking $15.3 million in “contract damages” from their claim, plus $30.5 million in punitive damages. They argue Chubb’s aggressive fire investigation caused humiliation and emotional distress.

Chubb filed a counterclaim to recover more than $700,000 paid to the Deckers as advance payments on the insurance claim, which it later denied, alleging the Deckers made false statements and concealed facts about the fire.

Judge Dlott has filed a 47-page trial preview outlining legal issues and disputed facts that remain in the case. The document also provides a witness list that includes Joel Gemunder, former CEO of Omnicare Inc., who considered buying the Decker’s house several years ago.

Arnold Barnett, former chairman of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, could also be called as a witness. Chubb is trying to keep Barnett from testifying about Chubb’s investigation of a past insurance claim. The Deckers view it as evidence of “bad faith conduct” by Chubb.

MORE: Insurance company won’t pay claim for Hamilton home where arson killed firefighter

The jury is also expected to see the video deposition of James Stafford, the founder and former owner of Stafford Jewelers. He was found dead on the Deckers’ property in November 2016, five months after he told Chubb’s attorneys that Decker was trying to sell his Indian Hill home before it caught fire.

“It was just too much house for him,” Stafford testified.

According to the deposition, Decker was a Stafford Jewelers customer and partner in a real estate venture with James Stafford. Stafford testified that Decker once confided that he spent $5.5 million to build the home and was trying to sell it for up to $12 million. Chubb had the house appraised at $5 million.

The Deckers are seeking $10.7 million in damages for the dwelling itself and more than $2 million for its contents, including $29,000 for jewelry, $23,000 for furs and $5,700 for fine arts.

MORE: Middletown fire canine a first in the region

One of the big remaining disputes in the case involves Chubb’s use of cell phone records to support its allegation that Jeffrey Decker “was in the area of his residence, not at his alibi location” just 16 minutes before the fire was discovered by a neighbor.

Decker’s attorney Gary Franke claimed in a December filing that “Chubb employees in Philadelphia” admitted in a deposition that Decker’s “actual location could not be determined.”

The Deckers hired their own expert, who said Chubb’s method of analyzing call records “can only establish that an individual was within a 21.75 mile radius of a cell phone tower, well within the radius-area consistently asserted by Mr. Decker as to his whereabouts.”

Hatch to Sherrod Brown: ‘Don’t spew this stuff at me’

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 10:26 AM

Sen. Hatch Shouting Down Sen. Sherrod Brown on Tax Bill. Video courtesy of CNN

Sen. Sherrod Brown and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch are garnering attention today for a yelling match they had last night at a hearing over the tax reform bill working its way through the Senate.

Hatch, a Utah Republican, took umbrage at comments by Brown saying the tax bill will help the rich at the expense of the poor.

“This tax cut is really not for the middle class,” Brown said. “It’s for the rich.”

Calling it “a nice political play,” Hatch told Brown “I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich.”

Brown, an Ohio Democrat, meanwhile, shot back that the public believes that the bill primarily benefits the wealthy. “I get sick and tired of the richest people in the country getting richer and richer,” he said over shouts calling for regular order. “We do a tax cut for the rich and the middle class loses.”

Hatch said that he came from the lower-middle class. “We didn’t have anything,” he said. “So don’t spew this stuff at me. I get a little tired of that crap.”

“I like you personally very much but I’m telling you, this bullcrap you throw out really gets old after awhile,” he said.

The fight came during the final day of the Senate Finance Committee debate over the tax overhaul bill. The committee later approved the bill on a party line vote 14-12.

Trump delays lifting ban on import of elephant trophies from Africa

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:37 PM
Updated: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:37 PM



Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Update (Friday, November 17)

President Donald Trump said in a tweet Friday he’s delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review “all conservation facts.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport. The agency said encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs.

Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. On Friday, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

Trump said that the policy had been “under study for years.” He says he will review the issue with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Earlier

The Trump administration plans to lift a ban on Friday that barred big game hunters from bringing trophies from elephants killed in a pair of African nations to America, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told ABC News in a statement Wednesday that the decision was made after officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia provided them with information to support a reversal of the ban.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," the spokesperson told ABC News.

The decision will overturn a 2014 ban implemented by President Barack Obama’s administration in response to falling elephant populations. 

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A provision in the act, however, allows for the government to give permits that let people import trophies from such animals if evidence shows that hunting them helps conservation efforts, according to NBC News.

The rule reversal will apply to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, the news station reported. It will also apply to elephants killed in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and “applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements,” a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told NBC News.

According to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Savanna elephant populations fell by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014. About 352,000 elephants were spotted during the survey, 82,300 in Zimbabwe and 21,700 in Zambia.

Both countries had areas that saw substantial declines in elephant populations along the Zambezi river in Zambia and in Zimbabwe’s Sebungwe region, according to the census.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Serena Williams marries Alexis Ohanian in New Orleans, reveals wedding dress

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:42 PM

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian are reportedly married
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly/Getty Images For Entertainment W
Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian are reportedly married(Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly/Getty Images For Entertainment W)

Serena Williams is officially a married woman, according to reports.

People reported that the tennis legend and her fiance, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, were married Thursday in New Orleans.

>> Read more trending news

Reports bubbled this week that the pair was getting married at the Contemporary Arts Center

E! News reported that the nuptials came two years after Ohanian and Williams began dating. They welcomed daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in early September.

Related: Report: Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian set to wed Thursday

On Wednesday, the pair and 100 guests reportedly attended  a rehearsal dinner at Emeril Lagasse’s Meril restaurant. Eva Longoria and Colton Hayes were among those at the dinner, as was Williams’ mother, Oracene Price, and sister, Venus Williams.

Williams’ wedding gown was seen being brought into the city the same day.

What You Didn’t Know about Serena Williams

Williams posted a caption-free image of her in a ball gown silhouette wedding dress on Instagram Friday. 

“Entertainment Tonight” reported that Beyonce, Venus Williams, Kelly Rowland, Lala Anthony, Kim Kardashian and Ciara were among the famous wedding guests. According to an ET source, daughter Alexis Olympia was also in attendance. 

Related: Serena Williams welcomes baby girl with fiance Alexis Ohanian

Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ tennis coach, offered the couple congratulations in an Instagram post on Thursday.

“I send you all my positive feelings for that very special day. I wish you a very happy wedding, a fantastic party and a full life of happiness,” he captioned the post.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice boasts of bedding 50 women as part of defense of ‘all heterosexual males’

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 1:04 PM
Updated: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:30 PM

Justice posts on Facebook about sexual history

UPDATE @ 8:30 p.m.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, also a gubernatorial candidate, on Friday night made another Facebook post about calls for him to resign after his earlier post detailing past sexual relations and to clarify his thoughts about the “dogs of war” going after Sen. Al Franken.

“When a United States Senator commits a non criminal act of indiscretion and; and when it is brought to his attention he immediately has the integrity to apologize; and the apology is accepted by the victim: IT IS WRONG (sic) for the dogs of war to leap onto his back and demand his resignation.”

He ended his post with these words to his critics: “Lighten up folks. This is how Democrats remain in the minority.”

He took down his first Facebook message when he posted the second one.

MORE TO THIS STORY: O’Neill’s boast of sexual liaisons brings calls for his resignation

FIRST REPORT

An Ohio Supreme Court justice has taken to Facebook to share details about his past sexual relationships and his thoughts on Sen. Al Franken being accused of forcibly touching and grabbing a woman in 2006. 

Bill O’Neill, who is running for Ohio governor, posted on Facebook Friday afternoon stating: “Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Senator Al Franken I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males.”

News Center 7’s Jim Otte reached O’Neill by phone, to ask if his Facebook account had been hacked.

"I did post it and I stand by it," O'Neill told Otte by phone.

The original Facebook post by Bill O'Neill before he edited it.

WHIO Doppler 7 Interactive Radar

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, on Thursday called for an ethics investigation of himself after a Los Angeles news anchor came forward with allegations that he kissed her forcibly and groped her as she slept during a USO tour in 2006.

O’Neill continues on the Facebook post to describe the “approximately 50 very attractive females” he’s had sex with in the last 50 years.

MORE TO THIS STORY: O’Neill’s boast of sexual liaisons brings calls for his resignation

“Now can we get back to discussing legalizing marijuana and opening the state hospital network to combat the opioid crisis. I am sooooo (sic) disappointed by this national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago,” O’Neill said in his post. Signing off with a “Peace.”

Among his claims was describing two liasons specifically enough so that the women involved could possibly be identified.

RELATED: Ohio Chief Justice issues warning to Justice O’Neill after he announces run for governor

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat who is also running for governor, called for O’Neill to resign from the court. 

“Sexual harassment, degrading and devaluing women is not a joke. Justice O’Neill should resign,” Whaley tweeted at 1:02 p.m.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor also weighed in.  

“I condemn in no uncertain terms Justice O’Neill’s Facebook post,” she said in a statement. “No words can convey my shock. This gross disrespect for women shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

In addition, Chris Clevenger, O’Neill’s campaign communications director, announced on Twitter that he resigned. 

“The comments made today by @BillForOhio were both disturbing and misguided. As a victim of sexual assault, I cannot in good faith remain a part of #TeamONeill,” the Tweet read. 

Background on Justice O’Neill Controversy

O'Neill's entry into the Democratic primary for governor in 2018 is controversial because he chose to remain on the high court but recused himself from future cases. 

The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to step down if they run for partisan office. O'Neill, who announced on Oct. 29 that he is running, has a campaign set up but says won't step down because he does not believe he is officially a candidate until he files his petitions for candidacy by Feb. 7. 

Those petitions, which require the signatures of 1,000 valid registered Ohio voters, are a declaration for candidacy. 

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, earlier in the month filed a resolution to begin the process of hauling O'Neill before the General Assembly in an effort to remove him from the Court. 

The other Democrats in the race are former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron.

Many believe that Richard Cordray will enter the race, which O'Neill previously has said would lead him to drop out. Cordray, announced this week that he is stepping down early as the director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Candidates for governor on the Republican side include Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. 

O'Neill is the lone Democrat on the state's high court and if he leaves office before his term ends in 2019 his replacement would be named by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.