Settlement reached in civil lawsuit involving Steve Nunn case

gkocher1@herald-leader.comAugust 16, 2013 

An out-of-court settlement has been reached in the civil lawsuit between Diana Ross, mother of Amanda Ross, and the Opera House Square Townhouse Association, the gated community in downtown Lexington where Amanda Ross was shot to death by former Kentucky lawmaker Steve Nunn in 2009, an attorney said Friday.

"The claims against Opera House Square have been settled," said Perry Bentley, one of the attorneys representing Diana Ross. "The terms are confidential.

"I know from the plaintiff's point of view, the matter was resolved to everyone's mutual satisfaction," Bentley said.

A trial had been scheduled to start Monday in Lexington but it is now canceled. Instead, a hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday to determine how much in damages Nunn is liable for, Bentley said. Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael Jr. alone will decide that; there will be no jury.

Nunn, 60, the son of former Gov. Louie B. Nunn, will not attend.

On Sept. 11, 2009, Amanda Ross, 28, was found shot while in the parking lot outside her home at Opera House Square. She was pronounced dead at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.

Nunn is serving life without parole in a Muhlenberg County prison after he pleaded guilty in June 2011 to first-degree murder with an aggravating circumstance in the shooting.

According to an itemization included in the court file, Diana Ross had sought $23,873.27 in past medical expenses incurred for Amanda Ross; $27,471.58 in funeral expenses; $5 million for Amanda Ross's physical and mental pain and suffering prior to her death; more than $3.5 million, or whatever expert testimony is offered, for loss of future earning capacity; and $25 million in punitive damages.

Diana Ross alleged that Opera House Square allowed Nunn to gain access to her daughter after Amanda Ross told the townhouse association she had an active emergency protective order against him.

Diana Ross claimed the lighting in the parking lot was inadequate and allowed Nunn to hide in the darkness and ambush her daughter before she could take steps to protect herself.

Opera House Square had said it was not negligent because the murder was not foreseeable. The townhouse association said it took reasonable steps to accommodate a request from Amanda Ross to improve security.

Opera House Square also said there was no evidence that the lighting was inadequate at the time of the murder or that the lighting caused or contributed to the murder.

In a written response to questions filed in the court documents, Nunn said he entered Opera House Square "by using a gate key to open the Bruce Street pedestrian gate. While I was living with Amanda Ross, she made a copy of the pedestrian gate key for my use, as well as a post office key."

Nunn said he returned the "clicker" used to open the Short Street automobile gate to Opera House Square after his relationship with Amanda Ross had ended. And he said, "I never thought about what the gate (punch) code was" after the relationship ended.

In recent weeks, Nunn had refused to answer more questions. In a July 31 letter he wrote from prison to Judge Ishmael, Nunn said he declined "to answer any questions related" to the civil suit.

"I have no attorney," Nunn wrote. "I have had access to my (former) attorney's case file for less than 6 weeks and I am in the process of pursuing post-conviction remedies available to me.

"I believe it is in my best interest to invoke my 5th Amendment rights (against self-incrimination) at this time," Nunn concluded.

Lawyers for Opera House Square had twice tried to take a deposition from Nunn. The first time was July 11 at Green River Correctional Complex, the prison where Nunn is being held. Nunn "essentially refused to answer any questions at his deposition," a motion said.

Opera House Square then asked Ishmael to compel Nunn to give a deposition on Aug. 5, but Nunn notified the court that he would decline.

Opera House Square filed a motion compelling Nunn to attend the now-canceled trial. Opera House Square cited a criminal rule that says an individual who is otherwise exempt from appearing at trial who failed to give a deposition can be compelled to come to court and testify.

Ishmael sustained that motion on Aug. 9.

Claims against another defendant, Cincinnati Insurance Co., have also been settled, Bentley said. The original suit filed in 2010 claimed that Cincinnati Insurance denied to cover medical expenses for Amanda Ross even though she "paid dues which were used to purchase the policy with Cincinnati."

Diana Ross claimed that Cincinnati Insurance had "breached the applicable policy by, among other things, failing to compensate plaintiff for ambulance, medical, hospital and funeral services."

Still unsettled are negligence claims against Nunn's daughter, Mary Elizabeth Nunn of Glasgow, Bentley said. The claims against the daughter stem from accusations that Steve Nunn illegally transferred property in Glasgow to her to avoid having the Ross family claim it as damages.

"I think we'll go after that later," Bentley said. "That's not part of what this (Monday) hearing is about."

Nunn served in the state legislature from 1991 through 2006 and was a former Republican gubernatorial candidate. He resigned his position as deputy secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services after Amanda Ross successfully sought a domestic violence protection order against him.

Nunn's father served as governor from 1967 to 1971.

When he turns 62 on Nov. 14, 2014, Steve Nunn will be eligible to receive his full state pension of $28,210 annually, based on his legislative and executive department service. State law permits pension benefits to former lawmakers unless they commit a crime while in office.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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