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Published: Saturday, 5/1/2010

High court keeps Marsh on the board of elections

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court Friday unanimously rejected an attempt to remove Toledo attorney Ben Marsh from the Lucas County Board of Elections and replace him with Jon Stainbrook.

The court found Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner did not overstep her authority by refusing to accept conflicting recommendations for a four-year term on the board from competing factions claiming control of the county Republican Party. Instead, she made a third choice - Mr. Marsh - who wasn't recommended by either side.

The court said the Lucas County Common Pleas Court had ruled neither faction complied with election rules, and the Ohio Republican Party State Central Committee had not resolved the dispute by the March 1 deadline for Ms. Brunner to act.

"I would have preferred that the state Republican Party resolve this matter and did attempt to work with the party in the process of keeping the board at a high func-tioning level," she said. "The difficult local political climate, however, precluded a resolution short of [yesterday's] court decision."

The lawsuit was filed by the Lucas County Republican Party Executive Committee, which had recommended Mr. Stainbrook to the Republican vacancy on the four-member board. But a faction led by Jeff Simpson that claims to have ousted Mr. Stainbrook as chairman had recommended Toledoan David Dmytryka for the same post.

"The secretary of state was authorized to select a different person than those recommended by the competing groups, and she exercised this authority by appointing Marsh to the board of elections," the Supreme Court wrote.

The court said the committee needed to prove Ms. Brunner had abused her discretion or clearly disregarded the law, but found she had done neither.

Mr. Stainbrook noted that the Supreme Court, in part, based its decision on the Lucas County ruling that questioned both factions' standing. That decision is on appeal with the 6th District Court of Appeals.

"Our focus is on Tuesday to win at the precinct level and to move forward and be victorious in June at the reorganization meeting as well," he said. "Onward to victory."

The state central committee decided two weeks ago to empower its chairman, Kevin DeWine, to appoint a temporary chairman of the county party's central committee. That yet-to-be-named chairman would oversee a county reorganization meeting in June. Tuesday's election will select the members of the county central committee who will make that decision.

Although not a party to this lawsuit, Mr. Simpson had agreed with Ms. Brunner's position.

"I'm glad that this is behind us," he said. "Ben Marsh is a capable and qualified individual. There is a pending election between Stainbrook and myself, and I look forward to Tuesday."

The committee's lawsuit had, in part, relied on a 2008 case involving the Summit County Republican Party. The justices overwhelmingly voted in that case that Ms. Brunner could not twice reject elections board recommendations from party leaders in favor of a third choice. But Ms. Brunner successfully argued that that case did not involve conflicting recommendations from competing factions that both claimed to be party leadership.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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