Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Brown County Five" case becomes more complex

The matter involving the so-called “Brown County Five” has taken another legal turn.

Ohio’s powerful law enforcement union has weighed in to support the defendants, who consist of current and now-retired Ohio Division of Wildlife officials. The officials include now-retired agency chief David Graham; now-retired assistant chief Randy Miller; current agency law enforcement administrator, James Lehman; its human resources manager, Michelle Ward-Tackett; and the Wildlife Division’s District Five (southwest Ohio) director, Todd Haines.

These officials were charged over one year ago with two felony counts each in a matter related to the conduct and subsequent punishment of Allan Wright, state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County.

At issue remains whether the defendants properly disciplined Wright by doing so administratively instead of - as charged by Brown County Prosecutor Jessica A. Little - criminally.

The matter went to the Brown County Common Pleas Court when in September the defendants won a favorable legal technical point before the court’s judge, Scott T. Gusweiler.

However, Little indicated her intent to file an appeal before the state’s 12th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. This she has done.
Which triggered a response from not only the defense attorneys but also from the Fraternal Order of Police - the FOP - and one of Ohio’s most influential unions.

“All of the briefing is finished so what we are waiting for is the court to set a date for oral arguments. All of the parties have requested oral arguments,” Little said today.

While not totally unheard of, oral arguments are a lesser-used appellate tactic, Little said.

“I wasn’t going to request oral arguments but the other side did so I didn’t want to be left out. I would have been happy to just submit it on brief,” Little said.
Little said also that she filed her initial brief before the Appeals Court on March 10. This action was followed by the defense’s written arguments being filed April 22: The same date that the FOP submitted its Friend of the Court brief in support of the defendants, Little said.

In turn, Little had an opportunity to score a rebuttal, which she did on Monday.

“It will probably be a couple of months before they (oral arguments) are heard, but that’s just a guess and I have no idea,” Little said.

Though the case is now over one year old, it’s longevity does not come as a complete surprise to Little, she said.

“What I didn’t anticipate (was) that it would be this complicated but it is what it is. There is a great deal of interest in this,” Little said. “Obviously, the more parties that are involved the more complicated and longer the case is.”

In another, tongue-in-grove matter, Little said today that she has not heard of any activity regarding any possible, second, special investigation as it relates to Wright.

Last year Little appointed as special prosecutor the now-Adams County prosecutor David Kelly. Subsequently, Kelly dropped charges against Wright and stated that he intended to perform his own independent investigation.

But Kelly has not informed Little of whatever action he has, or is currently, undertaking, Little said.

And Kelly has not returned a series of telephone calls that sought an update as to the status of his efforts, if any.

Wright has been reinstated to his position as the state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County where he continues to perform his duties.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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