A group of Liberty Township residents was turned away Monday from the Delaware Municipal Court without a resolution to its motion asking a judge to increase Melanie Leneghan and Michael Gemperline’s bonds as trustees to $1 million.
The hearing is rescheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 11.
“We filed the action last Tuesday,” said Gary Yashk0, attorney for the group of township residents. “You can’t come in six days later prepared to have a hearing to try a case. Nobody can. I can’t. Perry Mason, maybe, but I didn’t get the notice of today’s hearing until Thursday afternoon.”
Yashko said this is the first time a motion has been filed to increase an elected official’s bond. He said no one could get everything together in such a short time to have a hearing six days later.
“You can’t subpoena people,” he said. “We went back there (judge’s chambers) and talked about some dates. I think this was really for the judge to hear our positions and to wrap his hands around it.”
Yashko said a special judge was brought in from Huron County to hear the case because of the local judges’ familiarity with the trustees, and to avoid any appearance of impropriety. He said the judge didn’t seem well versed in this particular section of the Ohio Revised Code.
“I don’t think there is any judge that’s well versed in this section of the code, but he does have a firm understanding of the overview issues,” Yashko said.
The attorney for the defendants, Gemperline and Leneghan, who asked to remain anonymous (no name listed on court docket), said he thought the case was “a silly suit.”
“This is one of the dumbest lawsuits that I’ve ever seen here,” he said. “The township has $6 million in coverage for all their clients.”
Gemperline sat in the courtroom at the defendant’s table while the judge met in chambers with his attorney and Yashko.
Margaret Caldwell, one of the 24 Liberty Township residents who signed the petition to file the motion, said she wasn’t sure what to think about the case being rescheduled.
“I’m not sure what to think, because it was an empty courtroom,” she said. “There wasn’t a judge, but I was impressed with the amount of people that showed up to support our petition.”
Sue Braden, another one of the petitioners, said she was disappointed there was no outcome Monday in the case.
“I’m just disappointed that we’re leaving here with no more information or conclusion than we have up until now,” she said. “I think it’s a good sign that the case wasn’t thrown out, but in the meantime, we have a runaway train in our township.”
Becca Mount, one of the organizers of the Liberty Township group known as Save Our Services, said, “No matter what date they chose, we will all be right back here in the audience, and we will be waiting to hear this case.”
The petition, signed by 24 township residents, was filed in the court by the Law Office of Gary Yashko, Powell, on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
“Now come the applicants, identified in the petition … respectfully ask this court to order Liberty Township Trustees Michael Gemperline and Melanie Leneghan to increase the bonds they hold as a condition of their office to an amount equal to one million dollars each,” the court filing states.
The petitioners also request that the court order the two trustees to secure the bonds, “at no cost to the township, … conditioned upon faithful performance of their duties in accordance with Ohio Revised Code 505.02.”
The court filing also asks that if the two trustees do not post the bonds within 10 days, that the court “declare their seats vacant.”
The group’s motion comes on the heels of the recent actions of the trustees that have led or could further lead to legal actions against the township.
“There is a growing controversy surrounding the actions of Trustees Gemperline and Leneghan due to their actions surrounding the Liberty Township Fire and EMS services,” the court filing states. “These decisions have led to public outcry and subject the township to liability.”
“I’m not sure it’s a real hearing,” Leneghan said. “They’re trying to intimidate an elected official from doing her job.”
However, she indicated that both of the trustees will be represented by a single attorney, while her personal interest will be guarded by a second attorney employed by herself.
Leneghan was not present at the Monday hearing nor were there any other attorneys present to represent her personal interest in the matter.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.