Earlier this week, Williams County Sheriff Steve Towns filed a case with the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to get his name on the ballot for re-election on the March 17, 2020, Republican primary ballot.
As reported in Thursday’s edition of The Bryan Times, On Jan. 3, responding to complaints from other candidates on the ballot, who cited the Ohio Revised Code section that stated that a candidate cannot run for the office of county sheriff if convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor, the Williams County Board of Elections voted unanimously to remove Towns’ name from the ballot.
Towns, in November was convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor in Bryan Municipal Court — the charge related to his dissemination of information regarding child abuse and neglect cases. In late 2018, he released, according to prosecutors, about 600 pages on his office’s website. At least one of those pages contained enough information to be able to identify a hospital emergency room nurse associated with investigation of a child abuse case.
Among Towns’ claims for action by the high court is that the proper course of action for a complaint against him would have been for someone to lodge a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Towns claims the conviction is void under the due process clauses of the Ohio and U.S. constitutions because he was not afforded the protections of the mandatory procedures provided by the Ohio Ethics Commission.
In his complaint, Towns also claims his conviction is void under the Separation of Powers Doctrine. The Bryan Municipal Court, he says, unlawfully usurped jurisdiction and authority of the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Paul M. Nick, the executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, states there is no clear-cut cause of action for the sheriff in that there is no clear directive in state law that would require the Ohio Ethics Commission to be the primary investigator of a case against an elected official in Ohio.
In an interview with The Bryan Times on Thursday, Nick said a complaint could go through the commission, or it could be sent for prosecution in the courts. “It’s not unusual,” he said.
Nick elaborated on the issue in an affidavit dated Jan. 15, 2020. The affidavit, he said, was completed at the request of Williams County Special Prosecutor Mark Weaver. Weaver was the lead prosecutor during Towns’ November hearings.
In his affidavit, Nick states, “I routinely advise both the Commission and prosecuting attorneys in Ohio that the Ohio Ethics Commission does not have exclusive or original jurisdiction over criminal violations of R.C. 102.03(B) [the section of the Ohio Revised Code that states that a person having been convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor is ineligible to run for the office of county sheriff], consistent with court precedents.
“Further, I routinely advise both the Commission and prosecuting attorneys in Ohio that the Ohio Revised Code does not require that a complaint or charge be made with the Ohio Ethics Commission before a prosecution can be filed in court, consistent with court precedents.”
In his affidavit, Nick further states, “Unless the law is changed, I will continue to advise the Ohio Ethics Commission and any prosecuting attorneys in Ohio that any person who violates R.C. 102.03(B) may be either referred to the Ethics Commission or prosecuted in the appropriate jurisdiction.”