After weeks of confusion in the Lucas County Republican Party over who's in charge, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates yesterday said the dispute is interfering in local elections operations and urged Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to get involved.
In her letter to Ms. Brunner, Mrs. Bates said she's aware of "significant irregularities in this intraparty dispute which I believe warrant your intervention." Both elected officials are Democrats.
At issue - and so far unexamined by any authorities - is whether a GOP faction led by Toledo lawyer Jeff Simpson and Springfield Township businessman Paul Hoag legitimately unseated current party Chairman Jon Stainbrook and his central committee chairman, Meghan Gallagher, at a meeting of the party's central committee Dec. 21.
The county Board of Elections, acting on a state law governing party disputes, on Jan. 12 certified both sets of officers and forwarded them to the Ohio Republican Party to decide.
But that process has been put on hold by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Charles Doneghy, who has scheduled an injunction hearing for Tuesday.
In her letter, Mrs. Bates said the dispute has "nearly paralyzed" the elections board because the two sets of leaders have contrary opinions on how candidates are supposed to file for the upcoming county Republican Party central committee elections.
The Stainbrook group says candidates must submit a petition with at least five signatures. The Simpson group says the candidate must file only a declaration of candidacy.
The board of elections a week ago asked the secretary of state for guidance in resolving the dispute and has not heard back. The filing deadline is Feb. 18.
Mrs. Bates also asked Ms. Brunner to intervene in the case in Common Pleas Court.
"Because the foregoing litigation has severely impacted the daily operations at the Lucas County Board of Elections, it has also presented issues which may result in unacceptable disenfranchisement of our citizenry and their election/voting rights," Mrs. Bates wrote.
Mr. Stainbrook has accused the prosecutor's office of standing by mutely while Mr. Simpson and Mr. Hoag "fraudulently" claim to control the party.
Yesterday, Mr. Stainbrook welcomed Mrs. Bates' intervention.
"As long as the facts are looked at. I just want somebody objective who's going to honestly look at the facts," Mr. Stainbrook said.
"The confusion needs to be remedied. We've got the keys, we've got the checkbook. This whole thing has been a farce since day one."
Mr. Simpson said he had not seen the letter. He, too, welcomed the investigation.
"While I'm more concerned with getting candidates elected in Lucas County and restoring credibility to the Republican Party of Lucas County and getting the conservative movement going in Lucas County, I'm looking forward to getting this matter resolved," Mr. Simpson said.
Ms. Brunner was not available for comment yesterday. Her spokesman, Jeff Ortega, said, "The secretary of state's office did receive a letter from the board of elections. That letter is being reviewed right now, and a response is expected soon."
In her letter, Mrs. Bates said the secretary of state's office has jurisdiction, and reminded her that the county board of elections was placed under "transitional oversight" July 22.
"You advised our local board of elections that you would 'personally,' with your staff, do all that is possible to assist the board," Mrs. Bates' letter reads.
The exact conduct of the Dec. 21 meeting is in dispute, with Mr. Simpson and Mr. Hoag claiming that the part of the meeting in which they were elected was legally valid, and Mr. Stainbrook and Ms. Gallagher saying the opposite.
Mrs. Bates' letter went out just before the prosecutor's office received another strongly worded letter from Mr. Stainbrook's attorney, Anthony DeGidio.
Mr. DeGidio demanded that the Lucas County prosecutor immediately advise the board of elections to stop confusing potential candidates with two competing methods of getting on the ballot.
And he renewed his assertion that Republican elections board members Patrick Kriner and Lynn Olman were guilty of a conflict of interest when they voted to certify the Simpson slate of officers because they had participated in the Dec. 21 meeting in which Mr. Simpson was elected.
"The prosecutor's office is clearly aware of this conflict and violates Ohio law itself by assisting Olman and Kriner in their continuing unlawful acts instead of prosecuting them," Mr. DeGidio wrote in his letter yesterday.
Mr. Kriner yesterday declined to comment. Previously he said he did not give up his right to participate in Republican politics when he became a member of the board of elections.
Mr. Olman labeled the allegations "more of the same - baseless, groundless, and false," and declined further comment.
Mr. DeGidio's injunction motion, filed Jan. 12, also seeks monetary damages.
In the petition, filed on behalf of Ms. Gallagher, Mr. DeGidio asked the judge to bar the Ohio Republican Party Central Committee from acting to decide between the two groups, and to recognize Mr. Stainbrook as the legitimate chairman.