After first admitting to hunting while on duty as the state wildlife officer assigned to Clinton County, Roberts was dismissed by the agency Sept. 28, 2012.
Along with Roberts also fired by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was supervisor David Warner who was dismissed on Sept. 21.
Officially the two were let go – in the words of the Natural Resources Department at the time – for:
“B. Dishonesty – 2. Willfully falsifying or removing any official document.
“D. Failure of Good Behavior – 1. Failure of Good Behavior.
“D. Failure of Good Behavior – 7. … any act that brings discredit to the employer.”
In each case the separation was made after the Natural Resources Department determined the men had violated state policy governing conduct while on duty.
Their separation also comes after each man was indicted in Brown County Court of Common Pleas for allegedly violating state law regarding employment irregularities.
Roberts and Warner were charged in July 2012 for alleged theft in office, a fifth degree felony, and tampering with records, a third degree felony.
Warner also was indicted for alleged dereliction of duty, a second degree misdemeanor.
In January 2013 both men pleaded “no contest” to allegations they were hunting while on duty and then falsifying time sheets by writing they were working when they really were hunting.
Under the terms applicable during that sentencing Warner received a 120-day suspended sentence, a one-year probation, along with the loss of the opportunity to hunt, trap, or fish for one year.
Also, both men had to pay restitution to the state for the time they falsified being on duty when the were hunting.
However, also under the sentencing terms the respective restitution applied only to the single day in which Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little wrote the indictment.
For Warner that restitution amounted to $708.73 and for Roberts his restitution amounted to $353.10, Little said at the time.
Little also said at the time that it would be up to the Natural Resources Department to recover any additional money.
But all of this has been turned on its head.
Recently a state arbitrator ruled in favor of Roberts, paving the way not only for his reinstatement as a Wildlife Division officer but that he is entitled to receive back pay, says Natural Resources Department spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle.
McCorkle explained that the union contract/labor agreement with the Natural Resources Department requires that an aggrieved employee-union member has the right to state his or her case before an arbitrator.
And this arbitrator “determined that Matthew Roberts did not willfully falsify any official documents, which is the standard required to prove a rule violation,” McCorkle said.
“Therefore Roberts was reinstate(d) to the position of Wildlife Officer with back pay – offset by any earnings from other sources during the period of separation,” McCorkle said,
As for Warner, the Ohio State Personnel Board of Review ordered that he be reinstated with a 60-day suspension, McCorkle said.
McCorkle also says the Natural Resources Department and working through the Ohio Attorney General's office has appealed that decision to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
"That appeal is pending," McCorkle says.
While a federal arbitrator has determined no wrong-doing on the part of Roberts and Warner related to Natural Resources Department policy, that doesn't vacate the two men's misdemeanor charges they pleaded to in Brown County Court of Common Pleas, however.
"The court found them guilty and that decision really has nothing to do with the decision made by the Natural Resources Department," said Jessica Little, Brown County Prosecutor.
In fact, Little says, what the arbitrator determined and what the Natural Resources Department did - or does - as it related to Roberts' and Warner's employment and wages is "really none of this office's business."
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn