Judges now at odds regarding RH case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2005

“This is kind of messed up, isn’t it?”

That was the contention of Special Judge Fred Crow as he heard arguments for and against the request to reinstate three ousted Rock Hill Board of Education members pending outcome of an appeal of their removal.

Crow granted the request that would allow Wanda Jenkins, Paul R. Johnson and Lavetta Sites to reclaim their seats on the school board until the Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals rules whether or not they should get their seats back permanently.

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However, Crow’s ruling was put on hold after the group that ousted the board members got a ruling of their own.

At the request of the Citizens Against Poor Spending, the group that filed the lawsuit against the three board members, the fourth district court issued a 15-day stay of any actions by Judge Crow so that the issue can be fully examined.

This means that Crow’s order that the members can retake their seats is on hold until the court of appeals decides whether or not to allow Crow to rule.

There could be some dispute over which order was filed first in the clerk of courts’ office and would take precedence, but two law experts have said they believe the court of appeals’ ruling would hold, regardless of the exact timing.

Also, Crow did not rule on a motion to have county taxpayers to pick up the tab for the lawsuit that ousted those three board members.

In the matter of the stay, Steve Rodeheffer, attorney for the three board members, argued that the verdict of the lawsuit that removed Jenkins, Johnson and Sites did not specify that they broke any state laws, therefore, they should not have been removed from the board in the first place. He also argued that the will of the voters, not the will of a jury, should decide the makeup of the local board.

“Following the verdict Mrs. Jenkins was resoundingly re elected to the board and one of the primary movers and shakers, Mr. Troy Hardy, was resoundingly defeated. I think the voters voiced their opinion on this very strongly, given the returns of the last election,” Rodeheffer said.

But Eric Schooley, one of two attorneys who represented CAPS, argued that whether the voters like Jenkins has little to do with whether she, Sites and Johnson should get their seats back.

He said the three were removed from the board by the unanimous decision to 12 people who found them guilty of wrongdoing in office.

“In every case the losing party never thinks there is enough evidence to prove a criminal act,” he said. … “From a common sense standpoint, if a person is removed for bad conduct, they should not be allowed to go back until the court of appeals makes its ruling. It wouldn’t make much sense.”

As for who will pay the legal fees, Schooley and his partner, Austin Wildman, contended in their written motion that the more than $68,000 to pay for the lawsuit should come out of the county’s general fund since the action was brought by taxpayers against elected officials.

“The petitioners were concerned taxpaying citizens, parents and electors who brought suit to institute changes that would benefit the entire school district,” the motion stated.

Crow told Schooley to submit a request but that does not necessarily mean he will sign it.

Wildman and Schooley, who also represented the plaintiffs in the Madison-Plains case, had made a similar request regarding payment in that lawsuit. Tom Wilson, administrator for Madison County Common Pleas Court, was not immediately available for comment, but no ruling has likely been made in that case either.

After the hearing, Jenkins said the judge’s decision was “wonderful.”

“I think we’re going back to what the people want,” Johnson said.

Sites said she felt like the jury that removed her and the two other board members were sort of second-guessing the removal of Superintendent Lloyd Evans and his lawsuit against the board when they voted to remove the three from office.

“That was not for them to do,” she said.

Wildman said after the hearing that there were several options for action in light of Crow’s decision but that he and Schooley and the members of CAPS had not had the opportunity to evaluate their course of action.

“I’m quite surprised,” he said.

Earlier this year, CAPS filed suit to remove the three board members, charging them with various acts of “malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance of office.”

In October, a Lawrence County Common Pleas Jury agreed. This comes after a host of battles in and out of court between two sides in the Rock Hill school district: Those who support Evans and those who don’t.

In March 2004, Sites, Jenkins and Johnson opted to non-renew Evans’ contract with the district. Evans filed suit to get his job back and won. The board then appealed that decision but after Sites, Johnson and Jenkins were replaced, the new board opted to settle the matter out of court.