Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story, as well as today’s print edition of The Gazette, incorrectly reported that Trustee Shyra Eichhorn asked fellow Trustee Melanie Leneghan to recuse herself from the proceedings. The request came from one of Fire Chief Tim Jensen’s attorneys, not Eichhorn.
The only witness to testify against suspended Liberty Township Fire Chief Tim Jensen Monday night will not be available to finish his testimony this week, almost assuring that Jensen’s hearing will last several days, instead of the two nights originally scheduled.
Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett was the sole witness Monday evening but said he could not return Tuesday. “I’m catching an early morning flight out of town Wednesday,” said Duckett, who investigated Jensen and prepared a report for township trustees earlier this year. “I’ll be out of town for the rest of the week.”
About 50 to 60 township residents attended Monday’s hearing. The hearing was scheduled to continue Tuesday evening.
Trustee Shyra Eichhorn instructed Duckett not to talk to anyone about the case until he could take the witness stand again.
Monday’s hearing began 6 p.m. and ended at 10:55 p.m. when Bittner said he needed another two hours to finish cross-examining Duckett.
Jensen’s attorneys, Bittner and Angela Courtwright, initially made several motions to dismiss the charges against Jensen, to disqualify Edward Kim as the attorney prosecuting the case for the township, and to force Leneghan to recuse herself from the hearing. Leneghan and the other two trustees are presiding over the hearing. Kim is the township’s attorney.
“Mr. Kim and his firm have provided advice on this very issue that we’re hearing today,” Bittner said. “We believe it creates a significant problem of due process. He (Jensen) is entitled to a fair and impartial hearing.”
“We absolutely disagree that this is in violation of due process,” Kim said.
Trustees went behind closed doors to discuss the motions with legal counsel Keith Muehlfeld, a retired judge from Henry County whom trustees retained last week. Upon returning, trustees denied all motions by Jensen’s attorneys.
“Chief Jensen’s due process rights include the review of the charges by a fair and impartial tribunal,” Courtwright said. “We respectfully submit this court is not a fair and impartial court.”
Courtwright said the relationship between Trustee Melanie Leneghan and Jensen has been contentious in the past and said Leneghan should recuse herself from hearing the misconduct charges against Jensen.
“Trustee Leneghan’s conduct in the past demonstrates she cannot be fair and impartial,” Courtwright said. But “she must recuse herself.”
Leneghan did not recuse herself.
Courtwright said that Duckett did not provide specific information on the charges in his report that trustees later filed against Jensen.
Duckett’s report contained issues of missing drugs, lack of leadership and, according to Duckett, the “constant underlying theme here of the lack of urgency.” Duckett has alleged that Jensen is not a competent manager.
“I believe Tim Jensen is unfit to serve in the office of fire chief,” Duckett said.
During a heated cross-examination, Bittner asked Duckett if he had drawn any conclusions before his report was written and whether he was influenced by trustees, who paid him $26,000 for the investigation and report.
“This report was never about the good character of Tim Jensen,” Bittner said. “Do you still believe that?”
“I had no bias against Tim Jensen,” Duckett said.
“Did you tell Trustee Tom Mitchell that fire chiefs should be at-will employees?” Bittner asked.
Duckett said he couldn’t recall the exact words he used but admitted, “I think it is an anomaly under Ohio law,” Duckett said. “I don’t have a strong personal conviction on this point. I find it an anomaly of the law and that is it.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.