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Isenberg cries foul in lawsuit against Treece

Even while resting in a hospital after complaining of chest pains, Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg had her attorney file a defamation lawsuit yesterday against Dock Treece, who said Tuesday that she tried to entice him out of the commissioner race by offering him a seat on the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board.

Ms. Isenberg, 62, was taken to Flower Hospital in Sylvania by ambulance after dialing 911 at 6:43 a.m. yesterday. She was listed in good condition last night and was expected to stay overnight for observation.

“She had chest pains and was not feeling well at all,” said Alan Konop, Ms. Isenberg's brother-in-law.

Mr. Konop, a high-profile Toledo lawyer, filed the lawsuit against Mr. Treece yesterday afternoon in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. The suit claims that Mr. Treece defamed Ms. Isenberg by falsely claiming in a press conference Tuesday that she “sent word to me offering a Lucas County Port Authority Board appointment in exchange for my dropping out of the race.”

The lawsuit, which was assigned to Judge Frederick McDonald, would not have been filed unless the allegations were untrue, Mr. Konop said.

“It's better to take the matter inside the courthouse than to rely on the defendant's self-serving statements outside the courthouse against a background of Republican loyalists,” Mr. Konop said.

Flanked by local Republicans such as Toledo city Councilmen Gene Zmuda and Rob Ludeman, Toledo Clerk of Courts Maggie Thurber, and party chairwoman Bernadette Noe, Mr. Treece said he was withdrawing from the race against Ms. Isenberg so it did not appear he was using the issue as a campaign ploy. Ms. Noe has not named a replacement candidate.

Yesterday, Mr. Treece, a former Sylvania Township trustee, said he “absolutely” stands by the charges he leveled at Ms. Isenberg, who has been a commissioner since 1985 and president of the board since 1992. He declined comment on the suit.

“When I get served [with the lawsuit] and my attorney and I have a chance to talk, I may say something then,” he said.

He said he was sorry to hear Ms. Isenberg was in the hospital, and he said he hopes “it's a sympathy ploy and nothing serious.”

In order for her to succeed in her lawsuit, the commissioner will have to overcome the fact that she is a public official. She must demonstrate that Mr. Treece's statements were made with what the law terms “actual malice,” which means he had knowledge the accusations were false or he had a reckless disregard for the truth

Ms. Isenberg has been under siege since Aug. 1 when she announced that she intended to retire for a day at the end of her term and return to work if re-elected so she could begin drawing a pension in addition to her salary. That would have netted her $40,000 on top of the $76,000 she will be paid if voters return her to office.

She reversed course Monday and announced that she would not begin double-dipping, a practice that has been heavily criticized by the public.

Her move took the pension issue away from the Republicans but then she was blindsided by Mr. Treece's allegations.

County Commissioner Harry Barlos was in the board's eighth-floor offices at One Government Center when Ms. Isenberg was informed about Mr. Treece's claims.

“When she heard about it, she started screaming, `I never said that,'” Mr. Barlos said. “She was visibly disturbed. I think the entire last two weeks have been trying for her.”

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