Ex-auditor Roger Reynolds’ conviction overturned

His lawyers look forward to Reynolds returning to public service in Butler County.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The felony conviction of former Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds has been overturned on appeal.

The decision comes after oral arguments in November in Columbus by 10th District Court of Appeal judges assigned to hear the case by the Ohio Supreme Court after all all five 12th District judges recused.

The longtime auditor, who was reelected while under indictment, was found guilty of unlawful interest in a public contract, a fourth-degree felony, on Dec. 21, 2022, in Butler County Common Pleas Court. A jury acquitted him on three other felony charges and one misdemeanor charge.

The jury found fault with Reynolds allegedly trying to convince Lakota schools to build a golf academy at the golf course community where his family lives — using excess auditor fees Reynolds routinely returned to taxing bodies. Reynolds’ daughter also was a member of the Lakota Schools golf team at the time of the proposal.

Reynolds’ attorney Chad Ziepfel in his appeals brief said the guilty verdict was unfounded and sets dangerous precedent.

On Monday, the appellate judges said “the state presented insufficient evidence” and the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s criminal rule 29 motion for judgment of acquittal. The appeals court court remanded the case back to the court with instructions to sustain the motion for acquittal and discharge Reynolds.

“We are pleased with this outcome, grateful to our client for the trust he put in us and look forward to seeing Mr. Reynolds return to public service,” said Ziepfel in a statement released by his firm Taft Law. “Mr. Reynolds is also grateful for the patience of the Butler County citizens, and thanks them for withholding judgment while we worked through the legal process necessary to prove his innocence.”

The lengthy appellate decision said in part: “The state’s contention that Reynolds attempted to use his influence as the county auditor to secure a proposal for a public contract that might have benefitted him — there is simply no other way to construe either the charges or the evidence supporting them,” the opinion states. “But even if the jury believed that Reynolds improperly attempted to secure a contract, his attempt failed — it was, in fact, thwarted by the only witness against him, (former Lakota Schools Treasurer Jenni) Logan.”

The ruling added: “Logan clearly and repeatedly testified she doubted the legality and wisdom of the proposal, and that she sought advice to convince Reynolds of its inadvisability, including advice from the Lakota School District’s attorney. And it is undisputed that after a conference call with the school district’s attorney, Reynolds abandoned his efforts to obtain approval of the proposal.”

The ruling said Logan lacked authority “to secure the contract that would have enacted the Four Bridges Proposal” and noted: “It is undisputed that such authority rested with the Lakota School Board, and there is no evidence the Reynolds ever talked to any of the board members regarding the proposal. Even assuming Reynolds had some corrupt motive, the discussions about the Four Bridges proposal occurred in late 2016 and early 2017, the proposal itself was almost immediately abandoned, and the charges did not appear until late 2022, after Logan was contacted by law enforcement. On these facts, it is ultimately impossible to establish that Reynolds employed the authority or influence of his office to secure the authorization of a public contract in which he had an interest.”

Steve Irwin, spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, said, “We are reviewing the court’s decision.”

Reynolds did not respond to requests for comment.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office investigated Reynolds for months.

On Monday, Sheriff Richard Jones said, “We are in communications with the attorney general’s office at this step to see what is the next step. This was the first appeal.”

Briefs filed last year during the appeal outlined both sides.

“If affirmed, this case will open up to criminal liability every brainstorm that a public officials has about how to spend public funds,” Ziepfel wrote in the appeals brief last year. “No case has swept so broadly. For good reason. The statute does not permit it.”

Special prosecutor Brad Tammaro from the Ohio attorney General’s Office said Reynolds’ plan went beyond brainstorming.

“Appellant characterizes his actions as ‘the mere whisper of a brainstorming session,’ when in reality appellant conducted multiple meetings with the Lakota School Board treasurer, the COO, an athletic director and the school district’s attorney, at his official office and at their official office, during which he proposed at least three different variations on the agreement,” Tammaro wrote.

Visiting Judge Daniel Hogan sentenced Reynolds to 30 days in jail but stayed it pending this appeal and five years probation. He also fined him $5,000 and ordered that he serve 100 hours of community service.

In February 2023, Butler County Republican Party Central Committee members selected Nancy Nix to replace Reynolds as auditor. He had been ousted from the job in December 2022.

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