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Published: Wednesday, 12/28/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Lawsuit to save Seneca County courthouse dropped

Protesters worried costly proceedings would hurt Seneca Co.

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Protesters worried that costly proceedings would hurt Seneca County have dropped a lawsuit to try and save the 1884 courthouse. Protesters worried that costly proceedings would hurt Seneca County have dropped a lawsuit to try and save the 1884 courthouse.
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TIFFIN — A group of Seneca County taxpayers fighting demolition of the county’s 1884 courthouse say they will not pursue that fight in court.

David Carroll, a Columbus attorney representing the group, said Tuesday that he intends to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court. Depositions of key county officials scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday also have been canceled.

“The case was about needing adequate court facilities for the efficient administration of justice, and it was clear to my clients that the way the county could afford that was through the rehabilitation of the 1884 courthouse,” Mr. Carroll said. “Since the 1884 courthouse is going to be gone, if we continue the lawsuit it could break the county.

“My clients are interested in the welfare of the people of Seneca County, and we just hope the commissioners will do the right thing in terms of providing adequate court facilities.”

In a 2-1 vote, commissioners last month hired B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland to tear down the courthouse and clear the site at a cost of $373,000. A fence was erected around the courthouse Dec. 19, and the lawsuit was filed the same day.

The plaintiffs asked the state’s high court to issue a temporary restraining order that would have immediately stopped demolition of the downtown landmark, but the court denied their motion in a 6-1 decision.

Seneca County Administrator Stacy Wilson said B&B employees began removing asbestos from inside the courthouse last week and were continuing that work Tuesday. They also were removing fluorescent light bulbs and ballasts that cannot go to the landfill, she said.

According to documents filed by B&B with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the courthouse is to be razed “by crane, backhoe, or loader” beginning Jan. 3. Demolition debris is to be hauled to the Sunny Farms Landfill near Fostoria, while asbestos was to be taken to Minerva Enterprises in Waynesburg, Ohio.

The company’s work schedule estimates demolition would be done by Jan. 19 with the entire job completed by Feb. 1.

It’s sobering news for those who have fought for years to preserve the courthouse.

“It’s very, very sad. I don’t know if Tiffin is ever going to be the same,” said Rayella Engle, one of the 44 plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

County Prosecutor Derek DeVine said he had planned to file a motion to dismiss the suit, but stopped working on that after Mr. Carroll informed him the group would voluntarily dismiss the suit. He had sent Mr. Carroll a letter last week urging him to do so, saying commissioners would be seeking sanctions against the group if it continued the legal action.

“The purpose of the letter was to try to convince him that it was time to stop the litigation,” Mr. DeVine said. “The Supreme Court didn’t think there was a whole lot of likelihood of their being successful, so they didn’t grant an injunction.”

While he told Mr. Carroll in the letter that the lawsuit was “purely political in nature, an attempt to stall the lawful decision of the Board of Commissioners, and frivolous,” Mr. Carroll disagreed.

He said he believed the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately would have ordered county commissioners to provide an adequate courthouse, but by that time the 1884 courthouse would have been leveled.

“The commissioners seem bound and determined to do the wrong thing by the people of Seneca County, and one would expect at the next election that would be reflected,” Mr. Carroll said.

“It’s unfortunate that an historic gem has to lose its existence in the process.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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