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Cancer-stricken Mahoning County worker Ricky Morrison files First Amendment–retaliation suit against commissioners, Acting Prosecutor Gina DeGenova, county administrator

Friday, December 23, 2022

Suit also alleges civil liability for various criminal acts including bribery, intimidation, telecommunications fraud, and tampering with evidence—and that the commissioners engaged in Ohio Open Meetings Act violations by holding secret meetings.

Cancer-stricken Mahoning County worker Ricky Morrison files First Amendment–retaliation suit against commissioners, Acting Prosecutor Gina DeGenova, county administrator
Ricky Morrison in 2022.

Youngstown, OH – Today, Mahoning County maintenance worker Ricky Morrison filed [UPDATED: an amended 12/30/22] federal civil-rights lawsuit against Mahoning County, Commissioners Carol Rimedio-Righetti and David Detzler, Administrator Audrey Tillis, Acting Prosecuting Attorney Gina DeGenova, and Commissioner Anthony Traficanti. As explained below, the suit alleges 11 claims against various defendants, with DeGenova facing the most. All but Traficanti are accused of First Amendment retaliation against Morrison.

The [amended] federal civil-rights complaint, which can be found here, makes the following allegations.

Morrison is afflicted with cancer, closes his landscaping business, and accepts a county job with health insurance—where he performs in an exemplary fashion with no write-ups.

In May 2022, Morrison, married and the father of two teenage daughters, was diagnosed with cancer. His treatment and condition made it impossible for him to run his landscaping business, so he accepted employment with the county that September as a maintenance worker, for the income and critical health insurance.

His performance in the job was stellar, with no discipline.

Morrison engages in First Amendment–protected political speech and association as a private citizen.

The [amended] federal complaint alleges that Morrison engaged, in his off hours as a private citizen, in First Amendment–protected expression, and that Commissioner Rimedio-Righetti was upset about it:

  • In about July 2022 before he was a county employee, Morrison, as a private citizen and as is his First Amendment right, posted a Facebook message supporting a commissioner-candidate challenger to incumbent Commissioner Rimedio-Righetti. In early November 2022, just before election day, a county co-worker told Morrison that Rimedio-Righetti was aware of the post and unhappy about it.

  • On November 28, 2022, Morrison, strictly as a private citizen off work, attended a Mahoning County Board of Elections meeting. The public meeting addressed the counting of absentee and provisional ballots in the hotly contested 2022 Mahoning County Commissioner race between Rimedio-Righetti and her challenger.

  • Morrison arrived at the meeting and sat next to the challenger he was supporting.

  • Rimedio-Righetti was sitting right behind the challenger and saw Morrison sitting with and speaking with him. The challenger and Morrison discussed the election and vote counting.

  • During the meeting, the elections board announced that Rimedio-Righetti won her re-election bid by just 137 votes. The narrow victory margin prompted a mandatory recount.

  • As Morrison and Rimedio-Righetti left, Morrison congratulated her on her re-election.

  • Rimedio-Righetti told Morrison that he looked familiar.

  • He responded that he worked for Mahoning County’s maintenance department.

  • Rimedio-Righetti asked, “Are you Dave Bucci?”

  • Morrison responded, “No. I’m Ricky—” and before he could say his last name, Rimedio-Righetti retorted, in disgust, “Ricky Morrison. You work for us. Unreal!” She then abruptly turned away and exclaimed loudly—and in irritation, “Wow!” She walked away without saying another word to Morrison.

Morrison, who depended on his health insurance for his family and his cancer treatment, endures swift retaliation in the form of firing.

The [amended] complaint alleges that Morrison then faced retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, petition, and association:

  • On Friday, December 2, 2022, just four days after the public meeting Morrison attended and amidst the Christmas season, he was called into his supervisor's office. His supervisor told him “the commissioners” had decided to fire him. The supervisor could provide no reason and expressed similar shock and dismay at Morrison’s firing. Morrison surrendered his county property, retrieved his belongings, and was escorted to the public exit of the building in what he perceived as a humiliating walk of shame.

  • Morrison was shocked and devastated by the commissioners’ conduct. Not only were he and his family relying on his job income, but they were also relying on the health insurance for their care and his ongoing cancer treatment.

Commissioner Traficanti tells everyone he opposed the other two commissioners’ firing of Morrison.

The [amended] complaint alleges that Commissioner Anthony Traficanti admitted in various statements that the other two commissioners engineered Morrison's firing, over Traficanti's staunch opposition:

  • Traficanti confirmed to Rimedio-Righetti's former challenger that Morrison was fired because he was sitting and talking with the challenger at the public hearing.

  • The day after the firing, Traficanti called Morrison directly. Morrison’s wife, Tara, listened to the 20-minute call:

    • Traficanti apologized for the firing and said he felt “horrible” because Morrison was such a “good kid.”

    • Traficanti reported the Commissioners met on December 1, 2022 in what he claimed to be an “executive session,” during which Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler voted to terminate Morrison, which Traficanti opposed. Traficanti said they were “screaming back and forth” and “I told them this isn’t right.”

    • Traficanti said he “walked out” and “slammed the door.”

    • Morrison asked Traficanti why he was terminated and Traficanti alluded to his support of Rimedio-Righetti's challenger at the elections-board meeting.

Secret meetings violating Ohio’s Open Meetings Act.

Such a supposed “executive session” violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act. During the December 1 Commissioners’ meeting—contrary to Ohio Rev. Code § 121.22(G) and (H)—no vote was taken to go into executive session and no public vote was taken on Morrison’s termination.[2] The secret meeting wasn’t even announced in advance as required by § 122.22(F) of the Act. Defendants Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler, the [amended] federal complaint alleges, decided to fire Morrison hidden from public scrutiny.

Local newspaper The Vindicator reported that another such secret commissioners’ meeting occurred as recently as November 17, 2022 among the commissioners, then-Prosecuting Attorney Paul Gains, then-prosecutor-aspirant DeGenova, and others.[3]

The [amended] complaint alleges that Traficanti told others that during the earlier secret meeting, Gains threatened to make public damaging information about the commissioners if they didn't vote to appoint DeGenova as acting prosecuting attorney and support her for the permanent prosecutor’s appointment at the Mahoning County Democratic Party’s January 7, 2023 meeting.

Following those threats, the [amended] complaint alleges, the commissioners appointed DeGenova as acting prosecuting attorney at their November 22, 2022 meeting. DeGenova and the commissioners were now, the [amended] federal complaint suggests, beholden to each other.

"She knew." Traficanti tells DeGenova what the commissioners did to Morrison over his opposition—but DeGenova still allegedly engages in cover-up for Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler by illegal acts.

On December 9, 2022, Morrison’s counsel emailed a letter to Commissioners Rimedio-Righetti, Ditzler, and Traficanti demanding Morrison’s immediate and unconditional reinstatement from his unlawful termination in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights.[4]

Following the letter’s delivery, on December 11, 2022, The Vindicator reported:[5] that Rimedio-Righetti admitted, “He [Morrison] said who he was" at the elections-board meeting, "And I said, ‘Oh, wow.’”

There is no explanation for why anyone much less Rimedio-Righetti would exclaim, “Oh, wow” to maintenance worker Ricky Morrison for merely identifying himself.

On December 11, 2022, following Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler’s comments to the media, Morrison’s counsel sent a taxpayer-demand[7] email to DeGenova[8] underscoring the demand for Morrison’s unconditional job reinstatement, to mitigate the irreparable harm he was suffering from being deprived of health insurance while afflicted with cancer. The letter also demanded that county officials preserve all evidence.

The [amended] complaint alleges that Traficanti has told multiple people that shortly thereafter the letter from Morrison's counsel, he "told [DeGenova] everything. She knew." Traficanti has said that he informed DeGenova about the commissioners’ secret December 1, 2022 meeting at which—over Traficanti’s staunch opposition—Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler decided to fire maintenance-worker Morrison in retaliation for his support for Rimedio-Righetti's former electoral challenger.

On December 13, 2022, DeGenova sent an email to Morrison’s counsel finding Morrison’s termination “void ab initio” (void from the beginning) and instructing Morrison to return to work the next day.[9]

But despite being fully informed by Traficanti, DeGenova, who claimed to have performed an “investigation,” in her email went well beyond what a normal lawyer would write, the [amended] federal complaint alleges. Instead of just announcing Morrison’s reinstatement and generally demurring on liability issues, DeGenovo went so far as to exonerate the commissioners’ behavior, claim they had no role in Morrison’s termination, and, it would seem, falsely scapegoat County Administrator Audrey Tillis for supposedly having acted alone without authority:

  • In her email, DeGenova claimed to have conducted an “investigation,” yet failed to provide any details of the purported investigation, such as to whom she spoke and what documents she reviewed. Her entire “investigation” was supposedly completed in just one day.

  • Defendant DeGenova never spoke with Morrison or his counsel. A reasonably competent and qualified attorney would know to interview or seek to interview the alleged victim as part of an investigation, before drawing conclusions.

  • DeGenova, during her purported “investigation,” spoke with Commissioner Traficanti and knew, the [amended] complaint alleges, that her statements exonerating the commissioners were false.

DeGenova email “false and fraudulent”?

The [amended] federal complaint alleges DeGenova’s email is a materially false and fraudulent writing:

  • DeGenova's claim that “the decision to terminate Mr. Morrison was made by the county administrator, not the Board of Commissioners…” directly conflicts with Traficanti’s statement to Morrison, others, and her that Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler both voted—under Traficanti’s opposition—to terminate Morrison.

  • DeGenova's claim that the termination “was not politically motivated” directly conflicts with Traficanti’s statements that the termination was based on Morrison’s private-citizen support of Rimedio-Righetti's challenger.

  • DeGenova's claim that the county administrator initiated the termination directly conflicts with the Board’s March 26, 2020 Resolution 20-03-029, which granted the county administrator the ability to hire and fire county employees.[11] DeGenova herself or her office would have drafted and approved that resolution. DeGenova’s claim also conflicts with Commissioner Ditzler’s comments to The Vindicator that “the decision rests with the county administrator and the facilities manager…”[12]

Traficanti has told Morrison and others that he didn’t support Morrison’s firing and that (even after DeGenova sent her email despite what he had told her), “In the end the truth will definitely come out…” He has called Prosecutor DeGenova's story about Tillis being solely responsible "very— very odd."

Chilling effect on First Amendment-protected free speech.

The [amended] federal complaint further alleges:

  • On December 13, 2022, the Mahoning County Board of Elections officially announced the result of the recount in the commissioners’ race—Rimedio-Righetti won by only 130 votes. Ironically, December 13 was the same date DeGenova announced the results of her purported “investigation.”

  • Morrison wanted to attend the December 13, 2022 elections-board meeting but was too afraid to do so, because of the chilling effect that Defendants’ unlawful and retaliatory termination had on him. He desperately wants to support his family and needs the health insurance. He has been silenced.

  • During the week of December 19, 2022 while at a local establishment, Traficanti was asked “who ordered the ‘code red’!?”—referring to a local radio talk-show host who questioned who ordered Morrison’s termination and referred to it as the “code red.” This was a phrase made popular by the Tom Cruise film A Few Good Men in which Jack Nicholson’s character Colonel Jessup is repeatedly questioned about a devastating act that he eventually (spoiler alert) confesses.[14]

  • Traficanti responded to inquiries that he knew what they [Rimedio-Righetti, Ditzler, Tillis, and DeGenova] were doing and what was going to happen, but that he withdrew from the situation because he did not agree with them and what they were doing [the unlawful and retaliatory termination and ensuing cover-up].

Ricky Morrison was emotionally devastated by being fired and losing his living and health insurance.

The [amended] federal complaint states that Morrison and his family suffered devastating harm from this ordeal. The lack of medical benefits and uncertainty about his ability to obtain cancer treatment and insurance for himself, his wife, and two daughters caused severe and undue stress. He remains haunted by it.

Claims for unconstitutional retaliation and civil liability for criminal acts, including bribery and intimidation.

The [amended] federal complaint includes claims against Rimedio-Righetti, Ditzler, DeGenova, Tillis, and—because they are high-ranking policymakers—Mahoning County, for First Amendment retaliation under the federal civil-rights statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Acting Prosecuting Attorney Gina DeGenova faces claims for Ohio civil liability for criminal acts under Ohio Rev. Code § 2307.60, for intimidation by using a false or fraudulent writing, tampering with records, tampering with evidence, telecommunications fraud, bribery, interfering with civil and statutory rights, dereliction of duty, and defamation.

Commissioners Righetti-Rimedio and Ditzler, and Audrey Tillis also face claims for Ohio civil liability for criminal acts under Ohio Rev. Code § 2307.60, for interfering with civil and statutory rights, bribery, dereliction of duty, and failure to report crimes.

The [amended] complaint alleges regarding the bribery claims that

  • DeGenova’s conduct was calculated to corrupt and improperly influence Defendants Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler by giving them the gratuity of covering up their personal exposure to public anger and punitive damages for the retaliatory conduct. DeGenova did so in consideration for their past and expected continued support for her permanent appointment as prosecutor.

  • And, the [amended] complaint alleges, Rimedio-Righetti and Ditzler, having supported DeGenova’s appointment and knowing their continued support was needed, accepted the gratuity of falsehood because it benefited them by hiding their misconduct.

  • DeGenova desperately needs the Commissioners’ continued support in her bid to obtain the appointment from the Mahoning County Democratic Party at their scheduled January 7, 2023 meeting.

Mahoning County also faces claims for Open Meetings Act violations, and Fourteenth Amendment failure to train and supervise.

Given his claimed opposition to retaliation, the only civil claims against Traficanti individually are for failure to report the crimes of the other defendants and an alternative claim against him for failure to supervise if, indeed, Tillis is solely responsible for the retaliation.

The defamation claims against Rimedio-Righetti, Ditzler, and DeGenova are for their comments to the media suggesting that Morrison is lying about what Traficanti and his supervisor told him about the commissioner's conduct and insinuating that there was some justification for his wholly unjustified firing.

Thin skins?

Subodh Chandra, Mr. Morrison's lead counsel, said, “Two Mahoning County Commissioners allegedly fired a cancer-stricken line worker because their skins are too thin to embrace the values of the First Amendment. The [amended] complaint’s allegation that the acting prosecuting attorney covered up for them because of their support for her political ambitions is troubling and will be developed further as the case proceeds.”

Chandra added, “We ask anyone who has information about this or the complaint's allegations generally to reach out to us at or 216.578.1700.”

Mr. Morrison is represented by Chandra Law attorneys Chandra, Donald P. Screen, and Melissa Obodzinski.

The matter is also being co-counseled by Martin P. Desmond—himself once a victim of retaliation when he blew the whistle on unconstitutional misconduct in Paul Gains and Gina DeGenova's prosecutor's office. That matter resulted in a $550,000 settlement. Chandra Law represented Desmond in that matter. And DeGenova led, in-house, the botched defense of the alleged misconduct. In that matter, she was alleged to have assented to false statements to the State Personnel Board of Review. And never corrected them.

The commissioner appointed DeGenova acting prosecutor in November 2022 to temporarily fill the seat prematurely vacated by former Prosecuting Attorney Paul Gains. Gains resigned under a cloud from the Desmond retaliation litigation.

Mr. Desmond said, "If public officials and law enforcement aren't going to do their jobs holding public officials accountable—then they we will."

Mr. Chandra observed about Mr. Desmond, "Given his experience in personally enduring and overcoming retaliation, holding retaliators accountable is now Marty Desmond's superpower—like when Peter Parker got bitten by that radioactive spider. We look forward to working with him to hold officials accountable.”

The federal civil-rights [amended] complaint in the case captioned Morrison v. Mahoning County, et al., N.D. Ohio Case No. 4:22-cv-02314, can be read in its amended entirety here.

If you have information about the misconduct in this matter, please contact us at or 216.578.1700.

Chandra Law has experience obtaining justice for victims of First Amendment retaliation, including public employees. The firm helped pioneer work in holding individuals and companies accountable for civil liability for criminal acts, securing the two leading Ohio Supreme Court opinions on the topic. If you think that your rights have been violated, you may contact us to discuss your options.

At Chandra Law, your case is our cause.®

[1] Letter (purportedly) from Landfried to Morrison dated Dec. 2, 2022 (attached to the [amended] complaint as Ex. 1).

[2] Video of Mahoning County Commissioners’ Board Meeting (Dec. 1, 2022),

[3] Ed Runyan, Officials’ gathering scrutinized, The Vindicator (Dec. 11, 2022),; see also Commissioners are forgetting transparency, The Vindicator (Dec. 18, 2022),

[4] Letter from S. Chandra to C. Rimedio-Righetti, et al. (Dec. 9, 2022) (attached to the [amended] complaint as Ex. 2).

[5] David Skolnick, Fired worker: Dismissal politically driven, The Vindicator (Dec. 11, 2022),

[6] Id.

[7] See Ohio Rev. Code § 733.56–733.59 (authority for Ohio taxpayer demands and lawsuits when officials are abusing municipal corporate powers).

[8] Letter from S. Chandra to G. DeGenova (Dec. 11, 2022) (attached to the [amended] complaint as Ex. 3).

[9] Email from G. DeGenova to S. Chandra (Dec. 13, 2022) (attached to the [amended] complaint as Ex. 4).

[10] See, e.g., Robert McFerren, Mahoning County employee gets job back after being wrongly terminated, WFMJ Channel 21 (Dec. 13, 2022, 5:31 PM),; David Skolnick, Fired county worker who backed DiFabio reinstated, The Vindicator (Dec. 14, 2022),

[11] Resolution 20-03-029 dated Mar. 26. 2020 at 2 (attached to the [amended] complaint as Ex. 5) (“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of County Commissioners, pursuant to its authority granted by R.C. 305.29, hereby appoints Audrey Tillis to serve as County Administrator during this time of emergency and, pursuant to R.C. 305.30, hereby delegates to her and authorizes her to take any and all action, and to exercise all powers granted under R.C. 305.30, as she determines to be necessary for the continuity of county operations during this time of crisis.”).

[12] David Skolnick, Fired worker: Dismissal politically driven, The Vindicator (Dec. 11, 2022),

[13] Ed Runyan, Commissioner denies firing was political, The Vindicator (Dec. 20, 2022), (cleaned up).

[14] Clip from A Few Good Men, at 5:58.

Related Practice Areas
Employment RetaliationFirst AmendmentGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbuseTaxpayer Lawsuits in OhioCrime Victims: Civil Action for Damages for Criminal Acts Under Ohio Revised Code § 2307.60

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