July 22, 2014

Elyria
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Church members get extra $540K

Settlement now more than $1M in suit over misspent funds at St. Clement

ELYRIA — Just three weeks after a group of dissident congregates from an Avon church won a lawsuit against another group of former church leaders, a county judge on Friday awarded the group an additional $540,379 for attorney fees and litigation expenses.
The new settlement brings the grand total to $1,164,000 that Visiting Judge Lynett McGough has ordered five of the six defendants in the case to pay. Last month, McGough ordered them to repay St. Clement of Ohrid Macedonian Orthodox Church a total of $623,621 in money they misspent, including $382,379 from church funds that they used for legal bills.
“We’re happy about the ruling,” said Elka Ioannidis, one of the plaintiffs. “We’re not joyful of all that’s going on with the church, but we appreciate the wisdom of the judge.”
Ioannidis and her allies, several of whom had served in the church leadership until the mid-1990s, first filed their lawsuit in 1998, in part to stop the regime that took over when they stepped down from buying land in North Olmsted to move the church.
But they had other concerns, including that the profits from weekly bingo games, which the church began running in 1990, had dropped under the new regime.
In her ruling three weeks ago, McGough spelled out numerous examples of how the new regime failed in their responsibilities to oversee St. Clement’s money — including questionable payments to a defendant’s wife, a $500 wedding gift to another defendant and $400 for buttons to wear during an Ohio Supreme Court hearing on the case.
McGough also noted more than $50,000 that was not properly accounted for from the money paid out in door prizes and $128,000 in lost profits, among other problems.
The additional money awarded Friday covers all of the plaintiffs’ expenses during the nine-year legal fight, said Eric Zagrans, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“We are gratified that the court ruled in favor of these plaintiffs, who fought for the last nine years to restore the financial well-being of the church and return it to financial stability,” Zagrans said.
He added, however, that he was disappointed that McGough did not grant $250,000 in pre-judgment interest on the misspent money that would have dated back to when the lawsuit was first filed.
Ed Markovich, the attorney representing the defendants, has said his clients plan to appeal the judge’s ruling. Zagrans said he couldn’t comment on that until something was filed, but added that the defendants won’t be able to use any mistakes made during the trial in their appeal.
“We’re satisfied that the trial court made no reversible errors,” he said.
Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 and awright@chroniclet.com.