A majority of the claims in a $4 million civil lawsuit filed against former Butler County auditor Roger Reynolds that he allegedly interfered with a West Chester Twp. man’s development deals has been tossed.
Gerald Parks sued Reynolds in September 2021, and those allegations spawned a criminal prosecution. The claims in that case have evolved — and other defendants dismissed — and both sides asked visiting Judge Dennis Langer to settle the matter in their favor ahead of the Oct. 30 trial.
The two main charges are that Reynolds used his office and political clout to doom three development deals — worth $1.3 million-$1.35 million each — and removed agricultural tax breaks from Parks’ land. He was charged individually and in his capacity as auditor.
A jury found Reynolds not guilty on the criminal charges related to the Parks issues in December, but guilty — he was removed from office because felons can’t hold public office — on an unrelated matter involving the Lakota Schools that is currently on appeal. Now, visiting Judge Dennis Langer, who is hearing the civil case, has decided most of the issues.
Both sides filed what are known as summary judgment motions, asking Langer to find in their favor on numerous issues. His decisions on those motions define if/how the trial will go. It appears out of five counts in the complaint, there is only one matter ripe for a jury to decide at trial, involving the doomed Clover development in Liberty Twp.
“However, that claim may only go forward as a claim of tortious interference with a business relationship, not also as a claim of tortious interference with a contract,” Langer wrote.
That issue involves Reynolds’ alleged influence over decisions made by the Liberty Twp. trustees, “as it relates to the Clover contract, plaintiffs presented evidence showing there is a genuine issue as to whether defendant improperly influenced members of the Liberty Twp. board of trustees.”
The bulk of the lawsuit centers on Reynolds and his efforts to get a development called Red Oaks Commons developed on land owned by his father in West Chester Twp. and defeating a similar development by the Clover Group on Parks’ land in Liberty Twp.
There was a $1.35 million purchase offer by Lancaster Land LLP so Clover Group could build a 55+ senior community. The Liberty Twp. plan commission heard the case at the end of January and Reynolds spoke in opposition to the development, citing greenspace and other concerns, according to the suit. The Liberty Plan Commission voted 4 to 1 against the project in April and the trustees followed suit.
Langer cited bits of evidence collected in the case showing Reynolds discussed the development with both trustees Tom Farrell — who was once a defendant and then dropped from the suit — and Steve Schramm.
Schramm testified at Reynolds’ criminal trial and said it was prudent to keep a good relationship with Reynolds.
“It was a good thing to do for the township, and for me, personally, to maintain a decent relationship with one of the most powerful politicians in Butler County,” Langer quoted from trial testimony.
Langer tossed out the claims for the two other development deals. Reynolds’ attorney Andrew Yosowitz told the Journal-News they will continue to fight the remaining claim.
“We respect the Court’s decision dismissing most of Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs are not entitled to compensation for their failed attempts at property development,” Yosowitz said. “With respect to Plaintiffs’ lone remaining claim, we will continue to argue that this development failed because it did not meet Liberty Township’s zoning criteria, not because of Roger Reynolds.”
Parks also claimed Reynolds had his office remove agricultural tax breaks in 2017 and 2018 and caused “recruitment charges” totaling $13,050. Langer found Parks needed to dispute the action within a year so the statute of limitations has expired.
Reynolds also claimed statutory immunity because he was a government employee and Langer ruled while the county is immune, Reynolds can be sued individually.
Parks’ attorney Chip Goff could not be reached for comment on Langer’s decision, but told the Journal-News previously the not-guilty verdicts in the criminal charges involving his client’s claims won’t adversely impact his case.
“The burden of proof the jury must apply in a civil trial is a preponderance of the evidence. It is a much lower standard than that required of a criminal trial which is reasonable doubt,” Goff said. “The facts and evidence presented to a jury in a criminal trial may result in a not guilty verdict for a defendant, but those same facts and evidence presented to a different jury in a civil trial may result in the same defendant being found civilly liable for damages.”