Suit won’t silence wife of official

WARREN — The wife of a county official said Wednesday she won’t let a “frivolous” defamation lawsuit filed against the couple by the Trumbull County engineer stop her from exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.

It was Heidi Nuskievicz’s third time speaking up at a Trumbull County commissioners meeting. Her wife, Trish Nuskievicz, director of the Trumbull County Planning Commission, did not attend.

“At a past commissioners meeting I read a statement in my own words. It’s called freedom of speech. I did not defame anyone,” Heidi Nuskievicz said. “If someone thinks a frivolous lawsuit against me will intimidate me and stop me from exercising my First Amendment right to free speech, you’re sadly mistaken and I hope more people will have the courage to come forward and speak out against bullies.”

Randy Smith, Trumbull County engineer, said the claims made against him are baseless.

Trish Nuskievicz is using time she has accrued and the Family Medical Leave Act to take time off for “serious health-related conditions that have been caused from working in a very hostile work environment.” Her condition is a result of “intense psychological abuse, bullying, retaliation, discrimination and general harassment brought about by the Trumbull County engineer and his associates,” Nuskievicz wrote in a letter earlier this month to Jim Shader, who resigned Monday as chairman of the planning commission board, without giving a reason or returning a message seeking comment.

Smith filed the defamation suit Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. In the suit, he claims by writing a letter to the planning board and speaking to the media about alleged bullying at his hands, the Nuskieviczes were acting maliciously to tarnish his reputation.

“I will continue to speak publicly and say what is necessary to bring light to this issue,” Heidi Nuskievicz said Wednesday. “The planning commission board, which includes the commissioners, should have stopped this over a year ago when my wife asked for help. But instead they turned a deaf ear to it while she was suffering.”

In his lawsuit, Smith claims that because Nuskievicz works for the planning board and not the engineer’s office, he couldn’t have created a hostile work environment.

Richard Jackson, director of human resources for the county, said Wednesday he looked into distress claims from Trish Nuskievicz last July, spoke to both parties, but the issue seemed to dissipate on its own.

The board voted to hire an outside investigator to look into the claims Nuskievicz has levied against Smith.

Nuskievicz is employed by the planning commission board, to which the elected Trumbull County commissioners belong. The planning commission and engineer’s office often work together on projects.

Trish Nuskievicz and other employees of the planning commission were ordered Monday not to speak publicly about the feud between the two departments at risk of termination.

This isn’t the only case Smith has in court right now. Smith’s safety manager resigned in May, claiming Smith created a “sexually hostile work environment” by subjecting him to ridicule, making implications about his sexual orientation and licking pop cans in front of him, according to a civil complaint filed in the county common pleas court.

Another suit filed by a logger in Gustavus claims Smith’s new permitting process and fees for overweight loads on posted roads are unfair and claims he and his wife were retaliated against for speaking up about it.

Smith denies the accusations in both cases.