The Ohio Court of Claims has scheduled a status conference to discuss the issues presented in additional filings between Liberty Township and residents’ attorneys in the struggle over the so-called Duckett notes.
“I think they’re trying to start this circus all over again,” said Jim Hurt, resident and one of the requestors for the Duckett notes. “We covered it, we asked for everything up front; the documents, the emails, and everything connected with the investigation.”
The Court scheduled the status conference for Dec. 6 at noon to discuss the issues presented in the parties’ filings. The conference will be initiated by the Court via telephone with only the attorneys.
The Duckett notes were compiled by Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett, who was hired by township trustees in March 2016 as a private citizen to investigate the conduct of the former fire chief, Tim Jensen.
Hurt and the township’s former fiscal officer, Mark Gerber, have been requesting the Duckett notes and all other documents created during the investigation since May 2016.
After their multiple requests were denied by township officials, the two residents filed a claim with the Ohio Court of Claims, which delivered its decision March 29. The documents were ruled to be of public worth and the court ordered the township to release the documents. The Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling April 8.
Hurt and Gerber then filed a motion with the Ohio Court of Claims to compel the township to release the notes. Judge Patrick M. McGrath wrote an order compelling the township to release the documents on or before Nov. 3. The township responded by releasing only a transcript of the interviews conducted by Duckett.
On Nov. 13, Hurt and Gerber filed a motion for enforcement and sanctions because, in their opinion, the township has not fully complied with the Court’s order.
“The (Duckett) billing statement is replete with similar references to e·mails, documents and notes none of which have been produced by the respondent (the township),” Hurt and Gerber stated in the motion. “On the last day for compliance with this Court’s order, the respondent (the township) emailed to requestors (Hurt and Gerber) two PDFs containing nothing more than what appears to be typewritten questions and answers of interviews conducted by Duckett.”
Hurt said in an earlier interview with The Gazette that he and Gerber have received several additional emails from the township since their filing of the enforcement and sanctions motion.
“They’re documents related to the case we’ve been asking for all along that they have not been providing,” Hurt said. “It’s still not all the documents — we’ve only received a small percentage.”
Township attorney, Stephanie Schoolcraft, filed a motion Nov. 22 asking for a status conference and a memorandum in opposition to the “motion for enforcement and sanctions.”
“In light of the requestors’ additional public records requests … Liberty Township respectfully requests this Court schedule a status conference to discuss any contested issues regarding records that are responsive to these additional requests and to clarify the scope of the Court’s orders,” Schoolcraft stated in her motion.
“The township is trying to pull a fast one by saying we never asked for anything but the interview notes,” Hurt said. “There have not been any other requests; they didn’t send us everything to begin with. Send it to us now!”
Trustee Melanie Leneghan said she wasn’t yet aware of the Court scheduling the status conference.
“In the spirit of transparency, we’ll try to understand what Mr. Gerber and Mr. Hurt wants that we have,” she said. “Of course, we’ll provide them with anything we have.”
According to tonight’s trustees meeting agenda, in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code, trustees will hold a closed-door executive session for “conferences with an attorney for the public body concerning disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent court action.”
Hurt and Gerber have filed a request for leave to file a response which the court granted Nov. 28 and a request for a court conference to impose sanctions and ensure compliance with the court’s order on Nov. 29.
Go to delgazette.com to activate the highlighted links to read all referenced court documents connected to the Duckett notes case.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.