Liberty Township has been ordered by the Ohio Court of Claims to release the personal notes of Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett in his investigation of the township’s former Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
However, Trustee Melanie Leneghan doesn’t agree with Judge Patrick McGrath’s ruling, and said he was changing legislation from the bench.
“I’m very disturbed by the judge’s ruling,” she said.”The judge is deciding what a government entity should and should not have. I believe this establishes a dangerous precedent for others.”
The court’s judgment was rendered in favor of Liberty Township’s former fiscal officer, Mark Gerber, and township resident James Hurt; filed in the court Nov. 21 after both had been denied access to the Duckett notes.
Both have maintained that Duckett’s personal notes are public record and should be released.
Wednesday in accordance with the special master’s recommendation, the court ordered the township to provide Gerber and Hurt with the Duckett notes.
“Judgment is rendered in favor of requesters. In accordance with the special master’s recommendation, the court orders the township to provide requesters with the Duckett notes,” said the order from the court.
Township officials have maintained from the beginning that the township has never been in possession of the Duckett notes other than passing them to Jensen’s attorney, Paul Bittner, when he subpoenaed them during Jensen’s disciplinary hearing.
“The challenge is we have to get the notes because we don’t have them. They were subpoenaed by Jensen’s attorney Mr. Paul Bittner, not the township,” said Trustee Shyra Eichhorn. “However, we will absolutely comply with this ruling.”
The three trustees said Duckett had told those he interviewed in his investigation of Jensen that the notes were protected and would never be made public.
“The people interviewed were told by Duckett their statements are protected,” said Trustee Tom Mitchell. “It doesn’t matter if I feel they should be public or not, the process did what the process was supposed to do.”
Wanting to put the investigation and hearing behind them, the trustees hope once the notes are released, there won’t be any hard feelings among the employees of the township who were interviewed by Duckett.
“What is unfortunate is the staff and firefighters who were interviewed by Duckett were told the notes would fall under attorney-client privilege,” said Eichhorn. “Overall, I am happy to put this behind us, because there is a renewed energy and excitement within all the township departments about the path we are on now and the focus on the future.”
“I’m glad that trustees Leneghan and Eichhorn have decided to stop wasting taxpayers money defending the indefensible,” Gerber said.
Jensen accepted a position as fire prevention officer as part of a settlement with the township in 2016. Thomas O’Brien from Newark, Ohio, was appointed in February as the township’s new fire chief.
The story was updated March 31 to reflect that Duckett’s notes were personal notes.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.