Liberty Township officials said Thursday they have not yet found an attorney to fill the prosecutor’s office role in the disciplinary hearing of suspended Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
The two-day hearing is scheduled to begin Monday.
Contacted by The Gazette Thursday, township Administrator Matt Huffman wrote in an email: “No decision has been made at this time.”
The township needs an attorney because the Delaware County’s Prosecutor 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.”
Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner, said the prosecutor’s office refusing to play a part in the hearing — thus forcing trustees to hire an outside attorney on short notice — “raises an issue about due process.”
“I sent a letter to Edward Kim (attorney for trustees), saying I think this a conflict,” Bittner said Thursday.
Bittner said his understanding was “the prosecutor’s office was to act as the trial lawyer for the trustees.”
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 said.
Bittner said he hopes a solution can be reached over what he sees as a conflict. “If we can’t get a solution, we’ll wage an appeal,” he said.
In the meantime, Bittner said he still plans to move forward with the hearing. “We have sent out some subpoenas and we are meeting tonight to prepare for the hearing Monday,” he said Thursday morning.
Trustees learned Monday night of the prosecutor’s unwillingness to act as advocate on their behalf in an email to Trustee Shyra Eichhorn.
Trustees then voted to pass a resolution to spend up to $4,000 to retain an attorney to act as advocate in the hearing. The hearing is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at 6 p.m. at township hall.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan on Monday expressed her disagreement with the “premise” that the prosecutor’s office used in not providing legal counsel.
Jensen was placed on paid administrative leave March 1 by Huffman. Trustees officially charged Jensen on May 16, alleging misconduct in office and gross neglect of duty.
The Gazette contacted Kim’s office for comment but he did not return the call.
Thursday’s story in The Gazette incorrectly reported that the attorney-to-be-hired would preside over the hearing.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.