Stark County Clerk of Courts Nancy Reinbold confirmed that the money – the subject of a lawsuit by a Bethlehem Township resident – was returned from the Newtown, Conn. charity via an electronic transfer today.
Facing a lawsuit, Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione asked the Sandy Hook School Support Fund in Newtown, Conn. to return a $5,000 donation that he ordered a defendant to make in December.
The charity, which was set up following the Dec. 14 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults, returned the money to the Stark Clerk of Courts Wednesday.
“They were so touched and thrilled by all the members of Stark County,” Forchione said. “In light of the lawsuit, they were more than happy to return the money to satisfy the one taxpayer. This was not an acknowledgment of being wrong. This was an attempt to save the Stark County taxpayers money. It is clear that I have immunity, but I will always do the right thing for the taxpayers.”
Attorney Craig Conley filed a civil complaint last week, asking the courts to determine if Forchione had the discretion to order former basketball coach Scott Studer to pay the fine to the charity. Conley, representing Bethlehem Township resident Thomas Marcelli, contended state law requires fine money to be paid to the county treasury. He wanted Forchione to reimburse the county out of his own pocket.
The county would have been forced to hire a special prosecutor and visiting judge to hear the case. Had a judge sided with Conley, he planned to go forward with a taxpayers’ lawsuit to recoup the money from Forchione.
Forchione said he stands by his decision to order Studer, the one-time Jackson Local Schools freshman basketball coach who videotaped nude boys in the varsity showers over an eight-year period, to pay the fine to the shooting victims. Studer also must serve 15 years in prison.
Conley said he will drop the lawsuit once Forchione vacates his initial court order. He called the judge’s explanation for contacting the charity “hogwash” and “shameful.”
“Oh, my goodness, what an embarrassment,” Conley said after hearing that the money had been returned. “...Why in the world would you knock on the door of those poor people who have suffered so much and ask for the money back? I would have written the check myself. He should man up and admit he was wrong.”
Conley accused Forchione of grandstanding during his Dec. 19 sentencing of Studer. Forchione asked for the people in the courtroom to observe a moment of silence for the shooting victims and then ordered Studer to donate his fine to the charity.
“It will be up to the public to decide who’s right and who’s wrong,” Forchione said Wednesday. “My mother taught me a long time ago that it’s not an error to be kind to others.”
Stark County Commissioner Thomas Bernabei said in a prepared statement that the return of the money should end any legal dispute.
Page 2 of 2 - “Judge Forchione has judicial immunity from this lawsuit and was not required to take the action, but he did so with the taxpayers of Stark County in mind,” Bernabei said. “His requested return of this fine money saves taxpayers needless expense of funds.”