A Jasper County Circuit Court jury on Friday found in favor of Rita Hunter, former county public administrator, and Charlene Kelly, her deputy, in a lawsuit brought by the daughter of a former ward, accusing the former county officials of malicious prosecution.
The jury deliberated for just on hour before returning the verdict, with 11 members in favor of the finding, and one opposed.
Dolores Forste sued Hunter and Kelly for damages, contending she was the victim of malicious prosecution when she was arrested and jailed for nearly a month for refusing to return her mother to Jasper County. Forste’s mother, Emma France, then a 95-year-old Carthage resident, had been made a ward of the office in a court action that was later voided after the court found no attempt was made to notify relatives and that France was not allowed to be at the hearing, both requirements of state law.
Lynn Myers, Forste’s attorney, expressed disappointment, adding “the jury had to decide on what were able to tell them, and there were some limitations.
“We will definitely appeal,” he added.
Doug Harpool, the Springfield attorney representing Hunter and Kelly, emphasized in closing arguments that Forste admitted on the witness stand that she took her mother from the county without Hunter’s permission and refused to return her, saying that’s what formed the basis of the charges. He said a prosecution cannot be considered malicious if it starts with truthful statements to police.
Hunter is the subject of other lawsuits filed by former wards of her office, which she occupied from 2005 to 2008. She also is the subject of federal investigation into operations of the administrator’s office. A state investigation was launched after Hunter left office in December 2008 and took with her files from the county office. Some computer records also were erased. Hunter later turned over boxes of files, and others were recovered via a search warrant served by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Later, the state probe was taken over by federal investigators.
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Jury Finds in Favor of Former Jasper County Officials
Motions Argued in Lawsuit Against Former Public Administrator, Rita Hunter