Battle over Varnau video continues

The Zachary Goldson case appears to be turning into a first amendment fight in Brown County Common Pleas Court.
Attorneys for five current and former employees of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office are asking Judge Scott Gusweiler to order Dennis Varnau, the husband of former Brown County Coroner Dr. Judith Varnau, to take down a video that he posted on YouTube about Goldson.
The video is titled “The Morning Zachary Goldson DID NOT hang himself in the Brown County, Ohio Detention Center.”  Below those words, “Copyright 2017 – Dr. J. Varnau – (Rev.0.4)” appear.
It is two hours and 13 minutes long, and is comprised of video of surveillance cameras in the jail as well as interviews with those involved with the custody of Goldson on October 4, 2013, the day he died in custody in the Brown County Detention Center.
The material came from a federal defamation the Varnau’s are facing from the same plaintiffs in federal court.
A second defamation case was filed against the Varnau’s on February 28 in local court as a result of the video and internet posts about it on the internet forum “Topix.”
Attorneys for the five plaintiffs are asking Gusweiler to order that the video be temporarily removed until a final decision is made in the case.
A five hour hearing was held on the issue on March 8
“We are hoping that the court will hold up the first amendment right of people to speak their mind and render an opinion, even if the opinion is unpleasant or upsetting to people.  That’s the point of the first amendment sometimes,” said Varnau attorney Thomas Eagle following the hearing.
Opposing attorney John Phillips countered that argument.
“The constitution does not provide for the protection of a liar or the protection of someone who is willing to provide false facts.  We believe that is what’s occurring in this case. I’m asking Judge Gusweiler to restrain the Varnau’s from continuing to attack the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and the deputies as it relates to the Zachary Goldson case and stop accusing them of falsehoods and allegations that they were in any way involved in a homicide.”
The video currently on YouTube is the fourth version posted.  A previous version viewed prior to the lawsuit filed against the Varnau’s on February 28 had the word “Coroner” after “Dr. J. Varnau” on the screen. The word “Coroner” was removed in the version published March 2.
The following note from Dennis Varnau is also on the opening screen of the video.
“Dr. Varnau was Brown County Coroner for one day in 2017, that is, her term ended at 2400 hrs., January 1, 2017.  Nevertheless, she will always remain the Coroner for Zachary Goldson’s interests in death, no matter how much future personal effort and perseverance may be required.  It would otherwise be an abandonment of her sworn duty to those deceased whose interests she voluntarily chose and agreed to protect, during her term in office.”
The Varnau’s are also facing a contempt of court request by Phillips.
A prior lawsuit was filed by the same plaintiffs against the Varnau’s in January of 2015 while Dr. Varnau was still coroner.  Gusweiler ruled in favor of the deputies and ordered Varnau to stop investigating Goldson’s death.
Phillips maintains that the video recently posted by Dennis Varnau is a violation of that ruling.
That case is currently on appeal before the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown.
Phillips has asked that court to hold the Varnau’s in contempt for violating Gusweiler’s order.  An answer could come within the next 30 days.
The hearing before Gusweiler lasted about five hours, with Dennis Varnau on the witness stand about half that time.
Phillips and Varnau sparred for about an hour and a half, with Phillips trying to get Varnau to admit that he was doing an investigation when he made the video, in violation of Gusweiler’s ruling.
Varnau countered that the video is comprised of public records and his own opinion.
“The whole video is my opinion,” Varnau told Phillips while on the witness stand.
“It’s an analysis of what was available in the public record that we did not have access to when my wife was coroner.”
Varnau also addressed an affidavit filed by Tara Downing that claims that Varnau visited her home and told her that he “‘represented the deceased’ (Goldson) and that his questions about Goldson’s death were being asked in that capacity.”
Downing’s affidavit also states “After my repeated refusals to be involved with the Varnau’s investigation, Mr. Varnau left his card with me.  The card lists Dr. Varnau as the Coroner of Brown County, which led me to believe he was acting in an official capacity through the Coroner’s Office.  Mr. Varnau hand-wrote his cell phone number on the back of the card.”
Downing also states that Varnau engaged in activity that may have violated the  Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or “HIPPA” law.
“I asked Mr. Varnau how he tracked down my address,” her affidavit reads.
“Mr. Varnau explained that Dr. Barbara Patridge, who is my OB/GYN and works with Dr. Varnau at Brown County Women’s Health, LLC, supplied Dennis Varnau with my address.  I never consented to the release of any information to Dennis Varnau from my healthcare provider.”
Varnau told Phillips under oath that he got Downing’s address “from the white pages” and that she gave him her cell phone number.
Varnau also addressed his feelings toward the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation decision that Goldson committed suicide.
Phillips asked him, “Is BCI more qualified to investigate Goldson than you are?”
Varnau answered “No.  I believe I am more qualified than the chief investigator on that case.”
Gusweiler instructed both attorneys to file final briefs in the case by March 15.