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Reynolds files suit against coroner claiming unjust inquest

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Former Toledo Elementary School Principal Ron Reynolds has filed suit against Lewis County for what he claims were unfair and unlawful proceedings leading to a 2011 inquest into the 1998 shooting death of his wife, Ronda Reynolds.

The inquest, concluded by a jury on Oct. 19, 2011, found Ronda Reynolds had been a victim of homicide rather than suicide, and identified Ron Reynolds and son Jonathan Reynolds as likely suspects in the matter. Though they were arrested for murder on Oct. 28, 2011, both were released after a preliminary court appearance due to a lack of charges filed by the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, with officials citing a significant lack of tangible evidence in the matter.

The suit, brought by Ron Reynolds and Jonathan Reynolds against Lewis County, the Lewis County Coroner’s Office, and Coroner Warren McLeod, claims McLeod did not have jurisdiction to call the inquest or issue the warrants, and in doing so violated the plaintiffs’ rights to due process "in a negligent and reckless manner."

"The actions of the defendants…were scandalous and libelous and did serve to damage the plaintiff’s reputations and integrity," stated attorney Rick Cordes in a complaint filed Dec. 6 in Lewis County Superior Court.

The complaint, which asked for no specific monetary compensation but rather an "amount to be proven at trial," claims Ron Reynolds lost his job as a direct result of the defendant’s actions and has since been "severely prejudiced" in his ability to gain employment.

Shortly after the inquest, Ron Reynolds had been placed on paid administrative leave by the Toledo School District and eventually resigned Aug. 31, 2012, after the District Board agreed to pay him $140,000 over three years in exchange for not contesting his resignation.

At that time, Superintendent Sharon Bower said the district had asked for Ron Reynolds’ resignation due to what she called a perception among community members that he no longer fit the needs of the student population, acknowledging there was a connection between local concerns and the results of the inquest.

Ron Reynolds has since remained a resident of Lewis County while Jonathan Reynolds currently lives in Grays Harbor County, and the complaint insists both would have a better standing within the community and more viable job opportunities if it had not been for the inquest and their arrests.

The complaint further claims McLeod had promised voters an inquest changing Ronda Reynolds’ cause of death to homicide while campaigning for Coroner in 2010, though McLeod’s campaign manager at the time, Steve Carmick, has insisted McLeod never made such a claim during his appearances before the public or the press.

An official response to the plaintiffs’ complaint is expected to be filed sometime this week, according to attorney John Justice, representing the defendants. In a motion filed Dec. 12 by Justice, the case was moved to Federal Court in Tacoma, with Justice stating the plaintiffs are alleging violations of Federal statutes and a higher court could be more appropriate in that regard.

Cordes has not returned requests for comment as of press time asking how he plans to articulate the plaintiff’s arguments, but Carmick, a retired Chehalis-based attorney, observed McLeod may find himself immune to litigation because, during the inquest, he was serving in the role of a judge, and state law prohibits judges from being sued based on actions taken on behalf of their office.

Also listed among the defendants was McLeod’s wife, identified in court documents as "Jane Doe" McLeod, with Justice explaining this was simply a matter of course rather than Mrs. McLeod’s culpability in the matter, as Washington is a shared liability state and a suit against one spouse is effectively a suit against the other.

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