Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner did not intentionally inflict emotional distress when he poked the chest of restaurateur John Skiadas and yelled profanities during an altercation four years ago at the Erie Street Market, a judge ruled yesterday.
Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Charles Wittenberg also dismissed a claim by Mr. Skiadas that Mr. Finkbeiner committed battery during the confrontation on July 14, 2000, at the market, where Mr. Skiadas was trying to open a new eatery.
Mr. Skiadas, the owner of Pepe's Mexican Restaurant on West Sylvania Avenue, claimed the highly publicized incident with Mr. Finkbeiner led to health and emotional problems, including post-traumatic distress and depression that caused him to withdraw from friends and family and become less active in his restaurants.
The trial for the civil lawsuit filed by Mr. Skiadas began Sept. 28. Attorneys entered more than 100 exhibits into evidence to Judge Wittenberg, who listened to the testimony of nearly 30 witnesses before the trial ended Oct. 20.
In his written decision, Judge Wittenberg said the contact made by Mr. Finkbeiner was "at most" a poke on the chest, but the former mayor did not intend for it to be harmful or offensive.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he was elated with the decision and defended the actions he took that day in confronting Mr. Skiadas on issues that had caused delays in the construction of the restaurant at the fledgling market.
According to trial testimony, there had been heated and argumentative confrontations between Mr. Skiadas and city inspectors and the market manager. The restaurateur also had missed two deadlines for opening the restaurant and was days away from missing another projected opening, according to testimony.
Mr. Skiadas had made changes in the layout of the restaurant and in buying second-hand equipment, which necessitated changes in paperwork and delayed the issuance of permits.
"I did not assault the man or batter the man," Mr. Finkbeiner said last night. "I probably cussed more than I should have, but I won't apologize for being loud. I said it in a tone that I did not want to be misinterpreted. I wanted him to know how serious I was about this and I didn't want him to make excuses."
Mark Trimble, an attorney for Mr. Finkbeiner, charged that the actions taken by Mr. Skiadas following the incident were made in hopes of obtaining money from his client and the city.
"We believe the court's ruling was absolutely correct. We believe this case was frivolous from the beginning," Mr. Trimble said. "We believe from day one that this was all manufactured for monetary gain."
The city of Toledo was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but was dismissed as a party by Judge Wittenberg at the conclusion of the witnesses who testified on behalf of Mr. Skiadas.
Judge Wittenberg also dismissed the claim that the restaurateur was assaulted and a request from Mr. Skiadas' wife, Georgette, for consortium compensation.
Mr. Skiadas, who recently announced that the restaurant in the market will reopen under a new format, and his attorney, John Potts, expressed disappointment in the decision, but vowed an appeal.
"That is not a good decision. I am very disappointed and definitely we are going to appeal," Mr. Skiadas said. "It has been a long four years. But I am still working to do what I have to do. I believe I am going to find justice."
Mr. Potts said an appeal would likely question whether Judge Wittenberg applied the law correctly in making his decisions.
"I have not fully evaluated the decision of the court yet, but we believe one of the appeals will be the technical issue of the law as to the decision on denying the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. We also believe that there is an evidentiary issue that could be presented as to the denial of the claim for battery," Mr. Potts said.
The case was scheduled to be heard by a jury, but attorneys missed a deadline for posting a fee that would have assured a jury trial. After conducting a hearing, Judge Wittenberg ruled that the attorneys' failure to post the fee constituted a waiver of the jury trial.
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