With a prickly legal case to ponder, Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Gusweiler has used up the two weeks he said it would take to render an opinion that will impact five indicted top Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.
However, Brown County prosecutor Jessica A. Little is not taking any chances.
She is preparing not only to go forward to trial with the case but also to press the matter further should Gusweiler rulein favor of the defendants.
“If I lose I’m taking it to appeal,” Little said.
However, Little is not terribly surprised that Gusweiler has yet to reveal his legal opinion on whether the five defendants are covered by the so-called “Garrity Rights” rule.
The courts have ruled under Garrity that public employees are protected against self-incrimination while being investigated internally and thus face adverse action such as losing one’s job, Little was quoted as saying earlier this month.
It is Little’s contention that the Garrity Rights rule applies to internal agency investigations, not to external investigations in which the investigating party has no authority over hiring or firing.
All of which Gusweiler said September 2 that he’d take under advisement and possibly render a decision within two weeks.
The problem is, Little says, that Gusweiler will be “breaking new” legal ground when he issues his expected legal opinion.
“It’s been a difficult case and but once the (Garrity) issue is resolved than the rest won’t be as difficult,” Little said.
Among the five Wildlife Division officials charged with two felony counts are the agency’s chief, one assistant chief, a district supervisor, the division’s law enforcement administrator and the agency’s human resources manager.
Mike Shelton, chief spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, says that if the matter goes to trial and the five Wildlife Division defendants are each found guilty they would not be required to return their salaries collected while on paid administrative leave. The five officials have collected - combined - approximately $160,000 since being placed on paid administrative leave.
However, Shelton says also, that should the defendants be found guilty of the two fifth-degree felony charges each faces that they would not be eligible to collect state retirement benefits.
This blog posting may be updated as further information becomes available.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn