CINCINNATI (AP) — A southern Ohio coroner accused of mishandling death scenes and abandoning evidence amid a political feud involving the county sheriff can keep her job, a judge ruled Monday.
Judith Varnau can remain coroner for Brown County, about 40 miles southeast of Cincinnati, after Visiting Judge John Webster Kessler dismissed the complaint against her in Brown County Common Pleas Court. Kessler ruled that the lawsuit seeking Varnau's removal from office did not provide "clear and convincing evidence" that Varnau has committed violations sufficient to remove her.
Varnau has been accused of mishandling at least two death scenes — one is the subject of the now-dismissed complaint and the other is the subject of a federal lawsuit claiming a conflict with the county sheriff is a cause of her failure to carry out her duties.
Steve and Rebecca Adamson, of Mt. Orab, filed the county lawsuit accusing Varnau of declaring their son's death a suicide too quickly and making investigative mistakes that will prevent them from ever knowing the truth.
The Adamsons said the coroner declared their son Zachary Adamson's Jan. 9 death a suicide but failed to test his hands for gun residue, turned over the gun used in his death to his roommate, and left his home unlocked when she left.
The suit filed in April was accompanied by a petition signed by 2,300 county residents calling for Varnau's removal.
Varnau, 67, has denied mishandling investigations. Her attorney, Thomas Eagle, said Monday that Varnau plans on continuing to do the best job she can as coroner and comply with the law.
The Adamsons plan to appeal the ruling, their attorney, Tracy Hawkins said.
"They are heartbroken by the decision, and the feedback we are getting through social media and elsewhere is outrage," Hawkins said.
Their complaint is separate from a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in February against Varnau and her husband, Dennis Varnau, who accompanies his wife to death scenes and does office work. A Ripley man's family said in that lawsuit that Varnau declared the man's death a suicide without meaningful investigation. The lawsuit attributes the Varnaus' actions to a conflict with Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger.
Dennis Varnau lost a bid for sheriff in 2008 to Wenninger and unsuccessfully tried to have him removed from office to take his place.
Judith Varnau is an obstetrician and gynecologist elected in 2012.
Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati contributed to this report.