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Husted calls for Lucas Co. GOP suit’s dismissal

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COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has urged the Ohio Supreme Court to throw out a Lucas County Republican Party lawsuit challenging his refusal to appoint its nominees to the county board of elections.

The state’s top elections official, a Republican, also told the court Tuesday that he followed the law and does not have a “clear legal duty” to appoint the party’s preferred members.

He said he “had on June 24, 2014, and continues to have reason that Kelly Bensman and Benjamin Roberts are not competent to serve as members of the Lucas County Board of Elections,” reads the response filed by Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office on Mr. Husted’s behalf.

Citing a “culture of dysfunction,” Mr. Husted on June 5 removed three of the four members of the board — county Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook, GOP member Tony DeGidio, and county Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler. That left Democrat John Irish as the only remaining member.

Mr. Husted later appointed Brenda Hill, who had been recommended by the county Democratic Party. But he rejected the GOP’s proposed replacements of Ms. Bensman and Mr. Roberts, saying both were tied to “the problems of the past.”

He later appointed Ottawa Hills attorney Mark Wagoner, Sr., and former appellate Judge Peter Handwork, of Sylvania Township, to serve as the two Republicans on the panel.

The county Republican Party’s lawsuit contends that Mr. Husted refused to accept the nominations of Ms. Bensman and Mr. Roberts based on “mere suspicion, unsubstantiated allegations, and personal opinions, without a shred of verified factual evidence that would demonstrate that either of them are not competent.”

Mr. Husted also denied that the board members subjected to removal had been denied their due process rights.

The dispute between Republicans is now before a court dominated 6-1 by Republicans. The court has not set a schedule for its consideration of the case.

Two of the court’s sitting members — Republican Justices Judith French and Sharon Kennedy — are on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election to be administered by the reconstituted board. There has been no announcement as to whether either intends to recuse herself from the case.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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