Liberty Twp. trustee speaks out after release from auditor civil lawsuit

Township taxpayers paid the legal tab.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell has had to remain virtually mum for the past year after he was named in a civil lawsuit against the indicted county auditor, now he’s been dismissed and trying to change the civil justice system.

Farrell was sued in a civil lawsuit filed against Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds by 88-year-old West Chester Twp. resident Gerald Parks last September. Parks’ attorney Chip Goff dismissed Farrell from the suit earlier this month telling the Journal-News he “is not the defendant to focus on.”

At the time, Goff reserved the right to refile the suit against Farrell but officially closed the case — it cannot be refiled — on him Tuesday. Up until now, the township’s attorney has kept Farrell mostly muzzled, only issuing brief statements declaring he was blameless.

“I’m grateful that this matter is over for me, I did nothing wrong and was mistakenly stuck in the middle of a dispute among other parties,” Farrell said. “This dismissal with prejudice confirms that. I truly hope that my reputation for honesty and fairness I have spent my whole life building is restored.”

Farrell said he is not going to just go away quietly after this disturbing happenstance that has consumed almost a year of his life. He said he has learned only one percent of civil cases go to trial and the average case length is two to three years and during that time “you have no ability to defend yourself, you’re considered guilty until proven innocent.”

“My opinion on civil legal process, on the other hand, is something that I believe needs to be fixed, and I will be pursing the options to do so,” Farrell said. “People suing in civil cases need some accountability for their actions.”

He said he intends to contact State Rep. Thomas Hall and Sen. George Lang to see if there is a legislative cure, but he has no illusions, and “most of them are going to tell you that I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, but I like those odds.”

Fighting civil lawsuits isn’t cheap either. Because Farrell is an elected official, the township taxpayers paid the legal tab. Township Administrator Kristen Bitonte said defending Farrell and the township has cost a total of $67,906, the township’s insurance company has paid $36,349 and the township has picked up $31,557 to-date.

Parks and his daughter sued Reynolds, Farrell, Liberty Twp. and Buck Rumpke, a member of the Butler County Planning and Zoning Commission last fall alleging bribery, ethics violations and interference in the development of a senior living community on land he owns in the township.

The portion of the lawsuit involving Farrell called into question a $500 campaign contribution Reynolds made allegedly to secure Farrell’s vote denying a development deal for Parks’ property. The accusations about Farrell are not part of the criminal bribery case against Reynolds. His trial was supposed to start Aug. 15 but now has been pushed to Dec. 12.

The civil trial was supposed to start June 5, 2023 but was bumped to Oct. 31 by visiting Judge Dennis Langer, who was appointed to preside when all seven of the Butler County Common Pleas Court judges recused themselves.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Steve Schramm told the Journal-News previously it is a shame Farrell was pulled into the litigation. He and retired Trustee Christine Matacic, who also voted to deny the senior living development, were not named in the lawsuit that is almost entirely focused on Reynolds.

Schramm told the Journal-News if anyone looked at the transcript from the meeting they would see he not Farrell did most of the talking during that meeting.

“All Tom did was shake his head yes during the whole time, I don’t get it, other than it was Tom’s (election) cycle so they could make a connection with a campaign donation and tried to use a pay-to-play argument,” Schramm said. “Which wouldn’t have stood up to the test of the statutorial law in the state of Ohio. They’ve already ruled ages ago that a campaign donation cannot be a pay-to-play.”

The portion of the lawsuit that directly involved Farrell was a $1.35 million purchase offer by Lancaster Land LLP so Clover Group could build the 55+ senior community. The county planning commission gave conditional approval by a 3 to 2 vote to the plan in January 2021, but Rumpke voted no.

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. It alleges Reynolds made a $500 contribution to Farrell’s reelection campaign March 4. The Liberty Plan Commission voted 4 to 1 against the project in April.

The trustees heard the Clover Development case in May — Rumpke allegedly voiced opposition at that meeting — and denied it.

Goff said he is not dismissing Rumpke yet but would not say why. Rumpke’s attorney Andy Yosowitz told the Journal-News his client shouldn’t be a defendant either.

“The documentation and testimony produced so far shows no evidence of any wrongdoing by Buck,” Yosowitz said. “On the contrary, the evidence produced thus far shows that Buck Rumpke should never have been sued.”

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