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The Suburbanite
  • Ohio Supreme Court dismisses argument in sheriff's case

  • Attorney says a second legal challenge to Maier's qualifications will be filed by end of the month
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  • The county's former sheriff plans to file a second challenge over Sheriff George Maier's qualifications by the end of the month, his attorney said Wednesday.
    The Ohio Supreme Court's dismissal of an earlier court filing Wednesday — the latest development in the protracted legal fight over the sheriff's job — has no bearing on how former Sheriff Timothy Swanson plans to proceed in his challenge of Maier, attorney Greg Beck said.
    Swanson and Beck still don't believe Maier meets the statutory qualifications to hold the job.
    Maier was ousted by the state's high court in November because he had not served as a full-time peace officer within five years of the appointment. Maier believes he satisfied what he called "technical requirements" by working full-time as a sheriff's deputy in Harrison County in the five weeks between his ouster and reappointment by the Stark County Democratic Central Committee on Dec. 11. As they tried to do a year ago, Swanson and Lt. Louis Darrow of the sheriff's office — a candidate for the post — asked the state's top court to determine whether or not the central committee could consider Maier for the job prior to it meeting.
    They argued that only Darrow and Republican Larry Dordea, the applicants qualified to hold the job at the time the vacancy occurred, could be considered.
    "The purpose was to compel them to either not convene or to follow what we felt was the proper qualification date," Beck said. "But since the (Democratic Central Committee) was able to meet without the court ruling that means the mandamus action was effectively moot."
    Attorneys for the central committee and party chairman Randy Gonzalez said the argument was absurd and asked the court to dismiss the filing, which justices did Wednesday.
    Steve Okey, an attorney for the party, said Wednesday's decision is good indicator that the court is "not looking too enthusiastically on their argument."
    Maier declined to discuss the status of the legal battle beyond Wednesday's court decision, but he said the right forum to challenge him is at the ballot box.
    "If Tim Swanson or anyone else wants to be sheriff, in three weeks is the filing deadline, so file and run," Maier said.
    Maier and Dordea have filed petitions to run for the seat at the May primary. Douglas Smith, a lieutenant for the Summit County Sheriff's Department, has pulled a petition to run as a Democrat. The filing deadline is Feb. 5. All candidates must be certified by the Stark County Board of Elections before appearing on the ballot.
    In addition to challenging Maier's qualifications, Beck and Swanson have indicated that they will file a lawsuit against Stark County commissioners to recoup a $33,805 legal bill. Swanson said earlier this month that he may sue for back pay for every day Maier served as sheriff.
    Page 2 of 2 - The legal battle started early last year when sheriff-elect Michael McDonald was too ill to begin his term. Swanson, who planned to retire from the job after 13 years, stayed on as sheriff until the Democratic party could find a replacement. Swanson, who helped write the state's job requirements, backed Darrow for the job from the get-go.
    Although unlikely, Okey said, he hopes both sides can move on.
    "Sheriff Maier went out and met the requirements," he said. "It's probably a closed issue. I'm hopeful this ends the legal wrangling that Sheriff Swanson has started. It's up to them what they're going to do. It's our hope we can close this chapter and let Sheriff Maier go forward and do his job."

    Reach Matthew at 330-580-8527 or on Twitter: @mrinkREP