Liberty public records battle extended


By D. Anthony Botkin - abotkin@civitasmedia.com



An extension of seven business days was filed Friday in the Ohio Court of Claims by the special master assigned to determine if the notes of the investigator in the Liberty Township’s fire chief case fall under the Ohio Public Records Law.

”For good cause shown,” Jeffery Clark’s, special master in the case’s filing states. “The special master is still in the process of reviewing this case.”

In April the 131st General Assembly of Ohio “created a procedure within the Court of Claims to hear complaints alleging a denial of access to public records.”

Friday was the deadline for the special master’s report and recommendation to the court.

Mark Gerber, former township fiscal officer, and resident James Hurt filed against the township in the Court of Claims Nov.21 over denied requests for documents from the township’s investigation into the conduct of former fire chief Tim Jensen last August.

The two are claiming the handwritten notes of the township’s investigator Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney, hired as a private citizen to investigate the conduct of the former chief, are public record and should be released.

Township officials have denied all requests from Gerber and Hurt with the claim they are not in possession of the notes.

The township is represented by attorneys Stephanie Schoolcraft and David Riepenhoff. Both attorneys are with Fishel, Hass, Albrecht, Downey LLP, the firm employed by the township in Jensen’s hearing.

Both parties in the case participated in a mediation session, which was deemed a failure by the Ohio Court of Claims Jan 17.

The township’s attorneys filed a response, containing affidavits from trustees, Melanie Leneghan, Tom Mitchell, Shyra Eichhorn and Matt Huffman, township administrator, asking the court to dismiss the case Feb. 1.

The special master then had seven days to file his report and recommendation with a deadline of Feb. 10.

“He now has seven days to make a decision,” said Mark Reed, clerk of the Court of Claims. “Either party can object to the master’s decision. If there is an objection the case it goes to a judge in the Court of Claims.”

Gerber and Hurt maintain the township is in possession of the notes based on the fact that during the hearing Paul Bittner, attorney for Jensen, subpoenaed Duckett for his notes during the investigation.

The board of trustees, presiding in a quasi-court hearing, issued a decision allowing the subpoena of Duckett’s notes.

However, trustees and officials maintain the township settled with Jensen before the notes were introduced as evidence and they never had possession of them.

All four affidavits submitted by the township’s attorney state, “I have never reviewed, considered, or possessed Mr. Duckett’s typed or written notes.”

Jensen took a position as fire prevention officer with the township as part of a settlement with the township.

By D. Anthony Botkin

abotkin@civitasmedia.com

D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.

D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.