Former Orange Township Fiscal Officer Wesley Mayer has filed an appeal after his lawsuit against the township and its former administrator, Lee Bodnar, was dismissed earlier this year.
Mayer’s lawsuit accused Bodnar and the township of defaming him and damaging his reputation when they filed an Ohio Ethics Commission complaint against him in 2019, when both men were Orange Township employees.
The OEC complaint centers around the events of Oct. 9, 2019, when Mayer, who was fiscal officer at the time, was driving a rental car on U.S. Route 23 and ran out of gas. Mayer contacted Orange Township Fire Chief Matt Noble and asked him for assistance, but Noble was unable to help, so Mayer contacted Aaron James, the township’s maintenance director. James and another township employee, Richard Spellman, brought Mayer gasoline to refuel his car. Mayer wrote the township a check on Oct. 11, 2019, for $40 to reimburse it for any expenses.
On Oct. 10, 2019, Orange Township Trustee Lisa Knapp made a motion directing Bodnar to file the OEC complaint regarding Mayer’s calls for assistance. In March 2020, the Ohio Ethics Commission contacted the township to report that it would not be investigating the incident further because any damage was less than $50, Mayer had already reimbursed the township, and because Mayer no longer held the office after losing his reelection bid in November 2019.
Mayer stated in his lawsuit that the OEC filing contributed to his loss.
Mayer filed the lawsuit in 2020 but in April of this year, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David M. Gormley sided with Bodnar and the township and dismissed the lawsuit, stating that township and Bodnar were immune to Mayer’s defamation claim.
Mayer’s attorney, Joshua J. Brown, filed an appeal with the Fifth District Court of Appeals last month and on June 16, Brown filed a merit brief, outlining the issues in the case that he is appealing.
In the brief, Brown argues that Bodnar and the township were not immune to the defamation claim if their acts were made with “malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner.” Brown continues that the issue of if conduct was “willful or wanton” should be brought before a jury.
“(Gormley) erred by not submitting this question to the fact finder,” Brown wrote before quoting a previous court ruling stating that “wanton misconduct is a jury question.”
In addition to claiming that Bodnar and the township defamed him, Mayer’s lawsuit also charges the defendants with destroying or failing to produce a public record, specifically a recording of a conversation between Bodnar and James about Mayer’s call on Oct. 9, 2019. The conversation was the basis of the OEC filing, Mayer’s lawsuit claimed. Mayer’s lawsuit said that the recording was requested numerous times but was not provided until after the lawsuit was filed in 2020.
In his ruling dismissing the case in April, Gormley ruled that Mayer was not an aggrieved party because he eventually did receive the recording and therefore his forfeiture claim is no longer valid.
In the merit brief, Brown argues that the township is still at fault for not providing the records in a timely manner.
“On February 23, 2020, Mayer properly requested a public record that he had a right to… the Township failed to produce that record,” Brown wrote. “The Township indicated to Mayer the recording was delete d. Only after this lawsuit was initiated, eight or more months later, did the Township finally produce the record. Thus, the Township failed to produce the record ‘promptly’ and ‘within reasonable period of time.’”
Brown continued that the trial court was incorrect when Gormley ruled that “Mayer was not prejudiced or harmed because he attained the records though discovery in this matter” and was incorrect when Gormley ruled that “the Township is not liable for forfeiture.”
At the conclusion of the brief, Brown asks that Gormley’s dismissal of the case be overruled and asked that the case be remanded for trial.
There have been no filings in the case since the brief was filed on June 16. Bodnar left the township in 2020 to take a position as an administrator at the Delaware County Engineer’s Office.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.