A judge has said “no” to a newlywed couple seeking to move their civil trial against an innkeeper to another county.
Ashley Anderson and Christopher Whitfield of Clark County were married June 7 at the Story Inn.
Three months later, they sued the inn and owner Rick Hofstetter for monetary damages, claiming that he “tarnished forever” the memories of their wedding.
In November, Hofstetter sued the couple, their lawyer and a relative of the bride, claiming that what was tarnished is Hofstetter’s reputation and his business after the couple’s lawyer reached out to a television station to do a story about their wedding experience.
That story went worldwide.
The couple claimed Hofstetter made comments to Anderson that she felt were inappropriate and grabbed her around the waist. They also said Hofstetter drove Anderson’s daughters around in a golf cart without their permission.
A heated argument ensued and police were called. Hofstetter told police that a family member of the bride knocked a cellphone out of his hand when he was trying to call 911.
Hofstetter has sued that man for battery.
A special prosecutor has not filed criminal charges against any party.
The couple’s current attorney, W. Edward Skees, told Judge Judith Stewart Feb. 5 that he doubted his clients could get a fair trial in Brown County because Hofstetter is so well-known.
To back that up, he cited Hofstetter’s countersuit that says he and the Story Inn have “earned a fine reputation as a responsible citizen, employer and taxpayer of Brown County.”
Skees also mentioned the Brown County prosecutor’s decision to recuse himself and hire a special prosecutor to look at the case.
“I feel as if the Brown County prosecutor can’t do his job, or her job, because of an affiliation with the Story Inn, the community as a whole might have a relationship with the Story Inn or Hofstetter that might lead them to favor their local residents,” Skees said.
Prosecutor Ted Adams recused himself because Hofstetter had worked on Adams’ campaign, Hofstetter’s attorney, J. Gregory Garrison, said.
“You can’t punish someone for having a decent reputation in the county,” Garrison added about his client. He said Skees would have to prove that Hofstetter’s reputation was “so big and overarching” that it would poison the entire jury pool.
On Feb. 9, Stewart ruled that the case would be tried in Brown County.
She said in court Feb. 5 that it’s common for juries to include people who know someone involved in a case; it’s only a problem if the juror’s knowledge affects their judgment on the facts presented.
“Generally, for a change of venue, you must show proof that there is potential bias other than the allegation of a good reputation in the community,” she said.
No trial date has been set.