Mediation fails in Liberty document suit

By D. Anthony Botkin -

Mediation in the Ohio Court of Claims failed Tuesday to resolve disputed issues between Liberty Township and two of its residents. The suit is over the release of documents from the former fire chief’s hearing held last August.

Jim Hurt, one of the residents filing against the township, said the mediation is confidential, but he could say it had failed.

“All I can say is the township now has 10 days to give a written response to our claim,” Hurt said.

According to the filing in the court, the office responsible for public records now has 10 business days to file a response, “and if applicable, a motion to dismiss the complaint with the clerk of the Court of Claims.”

The case has been returned to the docket of Special Master Jeffery W. Clark, an attorney appointed by the court.

Dr. Mark Gerber and Hurt filed against the township in the Court of Claims Nov.21 over the documents from the the township’s investigation into the conduct of former fire chief Tim Jensen.

Both claim the handwritten notes of Douglas Duckett, a Cincinnati attorney hired by the trustees as a private citizen to investigate the conduct of the former chief, are public record and should be released.

Gerber said he originally made the request for the documents May 4, and said he has followed up with several requests. All requests have been denied by the township.

Township officials maintain the claim the documents are not public record because they don’t possess the exact ones they are requesting.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan, chair of the board, Tuesday continued to support the township’s position of not having the documents in their possession.

“We’re trying to explain to the residents that we simply do not have or are in ownership of the documents they are requesting,” she said. “As far as we understand, according to the Sunshine Laws, unless we are in possession of a document we don’t have to provide it. We’re not in possession of it.”

Matt Huffman, township administrator, in an email dated Sept. 9 to Hurt, states he had talked with the township’s attorney who said, “Those notes are not a public record since the township does not have possession of those documents. The documents were never introduced as exhibits and are not in the record.”

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.” Gerber said it was the first filing in Delaware County under the new law and, to his knowledge, the 10th in the state.

According to the court documents, David Riepenhoff and Stephanie Schoolcraft represent the township in the matter. Both attorneys are with Fishel, Hass, Albrecht, Downey LLP, the firm employed by the township in the Jensen hearing.

In a settlement last fall Jensen took the position of fire prevention officer for the township.

By D. Anthony Botkin

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.