Liberty Township officials said late Friday afternoon they have hired a retired judge to preside over the disciplinary hearing of suspended Fire Chief Tim Jensen next week.
“The township is retaining Keith P. Muehlfeld, a retired common pleas judge with an active license to practice in Ohio,” said township administrator Matt Huffman.
The two-day disciplinary hearing is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday in the Liberty Township Hall at 7761 Liberty Road, Powell. It’s scheduled to continue Tuesday at the same time and location.
“I’ve never heard of him,” said Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner. “It’s not going to be any better or worse if they had hired a private lawyer.”
Muehlfeld served as a judge in Henry County.
On Friday morning, township officials were still trying to finalize arrangements with an attorney to preside over the hearing.
What does Jensen’s attorney think about the township hiring someone on such short notice? “He’s going to have to work over the weekend,” Bittner said. “It is what it is now.”
Trustees learned Monday night of the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office’s refusal to take part in the hearing. Township officials have been in search of a replacement since.
The prosecutor’s office declined to participate, citing a desire to avoid “any appearance of impropriety or any appearance of additional bias,” according to an email from assistant prosecutor Chris Betts to the township’s attorney, Edward Kim.
Betts noted that the prosecutor’s office had advised both trustees and Jensen in the past “on various matters that are now in controversy.”
The role that will be filled by Muehlfeld has apparently changed over the course of the week.
In a story Friday, The Gazette reported that Bittner said his understanding was that “the prosecutor’s office was to act as the trial lawyer for the trustees.”
Bittner added that, according to the law, the three trustees will “act as a quasi-tribunal, with Kim acting as a legal adviser to the trustees” during the hearing.
Bittner on Friday said his conversation with Kim suggests the roles of the attorneys have changed.
Bittner said it now appears that Kim will act as the “trial lawyer” and Muehlfeld will “preside and act as legal adviser to the board” of trustees.
Bittner said Thursday that, because the prosecutor’s office has refused to play a part in the hearing — forcing trustees to hire an outside attorney on short notice — it “raises an issue about due process.”
Trustees voted Monday night to spend up to $4,000 to retain an attorney to act as advocate in the hearing.
In total, the township has spent about $107,231 so far in connection with an investigation of Jensen, which includes his salary while he has been on paid administrative leave.
Jensen was placed on leave March 1 by Huffman. Trustees officially charged Jensen on May 16, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty — based on an investigation and report done by a Cincinnati attorney whom trustees had hired.
Jensen’s annual salary is $91,000. Bittner has said that Jensen wants to return to his job.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.
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