Insurer seeks to drop coverage for Clark County, Ind., in lawsui - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Insurer seeks to drop coverage for Clark County, Ind., in lawsuit against former Sheriff Danny Rodden

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An insurance company has told Clark County, Ind., officials it will no longer pay for the defense of embattled former Sheriff Danny Rodden in a three-year-old federal lawsuit.

U.S. Specialty Insurance Co. isn't required to provide coverage because the county violated the terms of the insurance policy by waiting more than two years – an “unreasonable” delay -- to mention the lawsuit, the company argued in a separate suit against Clark County government.

In addition, the insurer claims it didn't learn that Rodden admitted he violated prisoners' constitutional rights until after the company agreed to take part in his defense.

The new lawsuit, filed Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in New Albany, asks a judge to rule that the county and Rodden aren't covered under a policy that includes liability coverage for law enforcement and public officials, according to court documents.

At issue are claims made by Carlton Wright in an earlier lawsuit filed in December 2011. Wright, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence after being convicted of felony robbery charges, alleges he was arrested without a warrant, not arraigned within 48 hours and not given a probable cause hearing until 10 days after his arrest.

Wright's lawsuit has received scant publicity; U.S. Specialty Insurance Co. claims in its court filings that it wasn't aware of the Wright lawsuit until the county disclosed the case last February.

Wright is seeking class-action status in his lawsuit. A judge has not yet ruled on that request, but attorneys for Wright and Clark County agreed in court documents that the suit would include 661 to 1,300 people -- anyone arrested without a warrant from Dec. 27, 2009 to Jan. 27, 2011 and detained in the county's jail for more than 48 hours before getting a probable cause ruling.

Clark County had two different insurance providers during that time -- U.S. Specialty Insurance Co. and Governmental Interinsurance Exchange – according to court filings.

Clark County has retained the Indianapolis-based law firm Ice Miller in the U.S. Specialty Insurance Co. lawsuit, county attorney Jacob Elder said.

The potential impact on Clark County government from U.S. Specialty Insurance Co.'s attempt to void its policy depends on a number of unknown factors, such as whether the Wright case will be settled and for how much, Elder said.

“GIE is covering our legal expenses for the underlying case,” Elder said. (Kightlinger & Gray of New Albany is representing the county in the Wright lawsuit.)

That case stems from events that unfolded on Christmas Eve 2009, when Wright was arrested in connection with a shooting that left Reinaldo Santiago blind, according to court documents. Wright was charged with robbery, criminal confinement and resisting arrest.

A Clark County jury convicted Wright in May 2010; in June 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Wright's conviction on the confinement charges but upheld his robbery conviction and sentence.

Wright sued Rodden in federal court in late 2011, claiming the then-sheriff violated his and others' constitutional rights to a prompt arraignment/initial hearing guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Rodden initially denied those claims, but later acknowledged in a consent decree entered in federal court that his “policies, customs or procedures, or lack thereof, were a cause” of the violations alleged by Wright and other inmates.

Rodden also instituted a new policy at the jail in January 2011 that ensures those arrested without a warrant receive a probable cause determination within 48 hours of their arrest, according to court documents.

In September, a federal judge approved class-action status for a group of inmates who had sued Rodden and other officials in charge of the county's drug treatment court, claiming intentional and illegal violations that caused the “systematic deprivation” of the inmates' constitutional rights.

Rodden was indicted in July and forced into retirement in October after a prostitute told authorities that he helped her get special rates at the downtown Louisville Hyatt hotel, where they met for an affair. When the FBI began asking about the favors, Rodden told the prostitute to get rid of a badge he'd given her and other evidence, court records show.

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