Two months after sending a letter to the Lucas County commissioners requesting reimbursement for legal fees associated with his defense during a federal criminal trial, Sheriff James Telb on Monday took a decidedly more aggressive approach.
The sheriff filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in common pleas court against the Board of County Commissioners. The complaint claimed the circumstances mandated that the commissioners indemnify the sheriff for his “reasonable fees and expenses incurred in connection with the defense of his criminal case.”
“Telb made demand for indemnification from the commissioners for his legal fees following his acquittal and the commissioners have made no response to this request,” the lawsuit stated. “… The failure to provide such indemnification will not only adversely affect Telb but also set a precedent which will make recruitment and retention of employees for Lucas County more difficult and become adverse to the interests of the county.”
Sheriff Telb could not be reached for comment Monday. He has declined to comment on the issue in the past.
He was acquitted in December of charges relating to the 2004 death of an inmate in the county jail. Two co-defendants, John Gray, a retired sergeant, and Jay Schmeltz, a retired deputy, were each convicted of charges in the case.
In a letter addressed to Board of Commissioners President Peter Gerken earlier this year, Sheriff Telb argued that because the charges arose from his duties as sheriff, he should not be forced to pay the bill. He noted that paying from his own pocket would mean wiping out “the savings of a lifetime,” the 72-year-old sheriff said.
“I have suffered financially as a result of funding my defense and believe it is unfair, if I can be frank, for the county not to use the funds set aside for these purposes to reimburse me,” the sheriff wrote.
Sheriff Telb’s salary is just over $100,000 a year. He also receives an $80,000 annual pension from his previous job as a professor at the University of Toledo and also from interrupted service as sheriff.
Mr. Gerken said Monday that while he sympathizes with the sheriff, “it’s unprecedented for the commissioners to pay the criminal legal defense of its employees.”
“We pay for those involved in civil litigation and we have done it repeatedly but we never have paid for it criminally,” Mr. Gerken said, noting the sheriff is not the first county employee to face criminal charges.
Mr. Gerken added that he indicated to the sheriff that before a request such as this could be considered, an itemized list of costs would need to be provided.
“I have not been provided with that to date,” he said.
Mr. Gerken said he’s been given the impression that the total bill is in excess of $200,000. Attorney Rick Kerger, who defended the sheriff during the criminal case and filed the lawsuit Monday on his behalf, said it was “a little under that.”
No amount was listed in the complaint.
“The amount shouldn’t be important. The issue is does the person have the right to be reimbursed, and I think that he does,” he said. “I see no difference logically between civil and criminal proceedings.”
Mr. Kerger said that a lawsuit was filed because the commissioners haven’t responded to the sheriff’s written requests. He said a civil complaint was the next step.
The lawsuit was assigned to Judge Gene Zmuda.
The sheriff and Internal Affairs Capt. Robert McBroom were acquitted of charges after a nearly month-long trial in U.S. District Court in Toledo.
Gray was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of one count of violating civil rights for leaving the inmate in a cell without seeking medical attention and of two counts of writing false reports of the incident. Schmeltz was found guilty of writing a false report about the incident and was sentenced to one year in prison.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.