A special panel convened to decide if Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds should be suspended while he fights criminal charges has ruled he will remain in office.
“The Special Commission determines that Mr. Reynolds’ continued administration of and conduct in his public office, as covered by the charges pending against him, does not adversely affect the functioning of his office and the rights and interests of the public,” the decision released Tuesday reads. “Accordingly, Mr. Reynolds shall not be suspended from public office.”
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor received the suspension request from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Feb. 14, because Reynolds was indicted on three felony and two misdemeanor counts of bribery and using his public office for personal gain. If he is found guilty he faces up to 7 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
“We believe the panel got it wrong but respect their decision,” Yost’s Press Secretary Steve Irwin said. “When the full case is presented to the jury, the defendant’s misconduct in office will be obvious.”
Reynolds has maintained he is the victim of a witch hunt by the state to punish him for challenging a state mandated property value hike. He has said he did nothing wrong by asking officials in the county, Liberty and West Chester townships to use $1.1 million in TIF funds so his dad’s property could sell. He also denies wrongdoing in his development dealings with 88-year-old Gerald Parks, who sued him in a separate court action that is intertwined with the criminal case.
“We are pleased that the state’s attempt to use false and legally insufficient criminal allegations to remove Mr. Reynolds from his duly-elected position has failed,” his attorney Chad Ziepfel said. “Not only are the charges against Mr. Reynolds false, but as the Special Commission recognized, the allegations do not involve the Auditor s office or Mr. Reynolds work as the Auditor.”
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones launched an investigation last summer after getting complaints about Reynolds and his development dealings. He told the Journal-News this is just the process and “we’ll see him in court.”
“They’ve done their job to decide if he should be suspended or not; doesn’t have anything to do with the validity of the charges, nothing” Jones said. “Basically they’re saying he can do his job, the way I understand it as he goes through his criminal trial. I still believe he should resign from his position.”
Yost’s suspension request said it was impossible for Reynolds to stay in office when the public can no longer trust him.
“Reynolds cannot be left to continue to exercise the rights and privileges as the Butler County Auditor while under indictment for misusing the authority of that very office...,” the filing reads. “To be sure, Reynolds’ alleged criminal conduct adversely affects the interests of the public. Elected officials hold offices of trust and confidence. The allegations leveled against him lay waste to the public’s expectation that elected leaders are committed to serving their constituents’ interests, and not lining their own pockets.”
Reynolds pleaded not guilty during a brief arraignment and his trial is scheduled for Aug. 15.
O’Connor was required to appoint what is called a 3.16 Special Commission, comprised of three retired judges, which she did on March 1. They were charged with making a preliminary determination on temporary suspension within 14 days.
“The Special Commission finds that Mr. Reynolds’ actions, as set forth in the charges, are not sufficiently related to the performance and duties of his office so as to warrant suspension,” the decision reads. “There is an insufficient nexus between the alleged acts in the Attorney General’s request for suspension and the functionality of the Butler County Auditor’s office.”
Reynolds lost his first fight in this matter last week when a visiting judge refused to pause the civil lawsuit while he defends himself on the criminal charges. Reynolds asked Judge Dennis Langer to stay that case and the judge refused.
Reynolds remains on the May 3 primary ballot trying to win re-election.
“Auditor Reynolds is focused on his commitment to providing quality services and his continued fight to keep spending and taxes low for the taxpayers of Butler County,” Ziepfel wrote in the statement after the panel found in his favor. “We again ask that the community not rush to judgment in this matter, and we look forward to proving Mr. Reynolds’ innocence at the upcoming trial.”