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Published: Tuesday, 9/1/2009

GOP official given newly found e-mails

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Borell Borell
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

After claiming for months to have given Kelly Bensman every document she asked for in a more than yearlong Lucas County Board of Elections public records case, the elections board yesterday handed over to the Republican Party official disks containing 10,241 previously unseen election office e-mails.

John Borell, the Lucas County assistant prosecutor representing the board of elections, handed over the disks during a hearing in Ohio's Sixth District Court of Appeals. He said the additional e-mails were records requested as part of "discovery" - the evidence-gathering process in the suit - rather than in Ms. Bensman's initial records request.

But Ms. Bensman, a member of the county Republican Party's executive committee, and her lawyer, Anthony DeGidio, yesterday rejected Mr. Borell's legal distinction. "Today they walk in and produce thousands and thousands of e-mails and other records. It's obvious they never produced them to the court or me in the first place," Ms. Bensman said. "It's a blatant lie that they produced everything, and they based their motion to dismiss on a blatant lie."

Mr. Borell previously filed a motion with the appeals court asking that the court dismiss Ms. Bensman's suit, saying the elections board had turned over all public records she'd requested.

"My motion was based on all the public records they requested having been complied with," Mr. Borell said.

In addition, Mr. Borell said he notified Mr. DeGidio, Ms.

Bensman's lawyer, in June that a disk containing 8,228 e-mails was available. but Mr. DeGidio didn't respond.

Mr. DeGidio said Mr. Borell has been given repeated time extensions in the case, delaying the production of public records Ms. Bensman had sought.

"He was ordered to produce this stuff in February by the court," Mr. DeGidio said. "He walks in with them today and expects the court to rule on his motion without looking at them."

The court did not act on Mr. Borell's motion to dismiss the suit.

Ms. Bensman is a hydrogeologist for a private consulting firm and a long-time political associate of Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party. She filed suit in July, 2008, alleging that her requests for public records were being routinely denied by Mr. Borell and election officials.

"Borell has been playing duck, deny, and delay the whole time," Mr. Stainbrook said yesterday. "I can't believe the board of elections was told to produce records six months ago, and they just brought some of them to court today. This is a step in the right direction to finally uncover the hidden corruption at the board."

The three judges on the panel in yesterday's hearing - Mark Pietrykowski, Arlene Singer, and Thomas Osowik - asked several questions but gave no clue as to what they thought of Mr. Borell's production of additional records.

Ms. Bensman said she is still not satisfied with the latest records production.

As an example of a public record that the election board has still not produced, Ms. Bensman said she asked for all e-mails to and from former board directors Jill Kelly and Daniel Pilrose, as well as several other board employees, during the period of Jan. 1, 2008 through May, 2008.

She estimated there were 3,000 e-mails during that time, but Mr. Borell and the board has refused to turn them over to her.

Mr. Borell said Ms. Bensman has not asked for those e-mails. "She got whatever she asked for," he said.

The appeals court yesterday also granted Mr. DeGidio's request to depose under oath Elections Director Linda Howe and two other elections office employees by Sept. 18.

Mr. DeGidio said the depositions are necessary to find out what other documents might exist that haven't come to Ms. Bensman's attention.

Ms. Bensman's case is one of several efforts emanating from the Stainbrook camp to force scrutiny of the Lucas County Board of Elections and especially its handling of the May, 2006, and March, 2008, elections for Republican Party Central Committee.

The Stainbrook faction of the party alleges the board of elections is covering up evidence that it meddled in the March 4, 2008, primary election in which Mr. Stainbrook's slate won a hard-fought battle to control the party's central committee.

Mr. Stainbrook has said that his political opponents still control the board of elections. He has repeatedly demanded the resignation of the two Republican members of the board who were appointed before he took office, Lynn Olman and Patrick Kriner.

Mr. Olman and Mr. Kriner and other elections officials have denied showing favoritism in the election and have refused to resign.

In a related case, the Ohio Secretary of State's office has ordered the Lucas County Board of Elections to review allegations of election-fixing in the May, 2006, election for the GOP Central Committee.

Brandi Laser Seskes, an elections attorney under Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, asked in a letter to the board Thursday for the board's evaluation of the allegations and asked for all relevant documents.

Meghan Gallagher, another Stainbrook associate and chairman of the party's central committee, instigated the investigation with her contention that her election for the Sylvania Township Precinct H committeeman seat was fixed in favor of her opponent, Thomas Nichols, Jr.

Meanwhile, the county has settled a wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by former board employee Patrice Webster with an agreed-on $75,000 payment to Ms. Webster. The Lucas County Board of Commissioners approved the settlement July 21, ending the U.S. District Court case.

Ms. Webster, of Oregon, was an administrative assistant with the board from 2001 until it voted to fire her in 2007.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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