Charges aqainst John Gamble in prosecutor race still up for trial
LISBON — Last fall’s election may be long in the rearview mirror, but the four complicity charges against county prosecutor candidate John Gamble remain pending — those involving whether classified police officers legally participated in a photo with Gamble on the courthouse steps on Gamble’s political Facebook page.
Attorneys defending Gamble and the prosecutor argued a motion to dismiss the four counts on complicity to violate Ohio’s Little Hatch Act, in County Municipal Court Friday in front of visiting Judge David Stucki. The judge took the matter under advisement and as of Sunday morning, the matter remains set for trial on Wednesday.
The charges are misdemeanors and carry a maximum possible sentence of six months in the county jail on each count and $500 fine.
John Juhasz, one of the two attorneys representing Gamble, argued that the interpretation of the Little Hatch Act is unconstitutional not on its face, but as it is proposed to be applied in this case. Additionally, he said Gamble is being accused of acting in complicity with them, for encouraging them to violate the law. As an assistant prosecutor, Gamble was an unclassified civil servant.
“Specially, this does not apply to him,” Juhasz said. He continued to argue the state needs to be prove Gamble can even be prosecuted under the Little Hatch Act.
Juhasz contended he is not sure there is evidence of a crime and he believes what the officers did falls within what is allowed within the rules. For instance, a police chief can put a sticker on his car or a sign in his yard, said Juhasz, arguing for the rights of the police officers to express their personal opinions without it being part of their job.
“So, if these police chiefs got together and said, ‘Based on my experience this guy will do a good job for the citizens of Columbiana County,’ I don’t think that meets any of the prescriptions here (that would make it a crime),” Juhasz said.
Special Prosecutor Dan Kasaris argued there is nothing that specifically grants immunity to the defendant and parts of the Little Hatch Act do apply, including the part that says, “nor shall any person solicit directly or indirectly, orally or by letter, or be in any manner concerned in soliciting any substance, contribution or payment from any officer or employee in classified service.” Kasaris argued the state statute prohibits any person, classified or unclassified from violating the provisions of the act.
Additionally, Kasaris said what the officers did was a violation of the Little Hatch Act, which prohibits members of the classified service taking part in partisan politics. Kasaris said that participation is exactly what is happened when these officers endorsed a candidate in the prosecutor’s race in a photo on Facebook.
Gamble’s other defense attorney, Ron Yarwood, argued that the constitutional right to free political speech cannot be curtailed by a state statute. Additionally, he said the prosecutor has to prove there was some type of contribution “in kind” and he does not believe the photograph on the steps of the courthouse could be considered a contribution, like a monetary donation would.
Additionally, Yarwood argued that by limiting these police officers from expressing their political opinion it would deny the rights of other electors to hear the police officer’s educated opinions.
Stucki questioned if the two defense attorneys really expected a municipal court judge to rule on the constitutionality of Ohio’s Little Hatch Act. Both men agreed with him they were only asking for him to rule as it pertained to Gamble’s case.
The other argument before Stucki on Friday involved the calling as witnesses of a long list of 30 or more people, many of whom were in the photograph. Kasaris said he only intends to call some of the people in the photograph and question them regarding the photograph, not about any knowledge any of them have of any other accusations involving the election which are irrelevant.
Additionally, Kasaris said he was willing to offer immunity to the officers to allow them to testify about the alleged complicity.
Although the trial is scheduled for Wednesday, Yarwood pointed out Gamble also has another hearing in domestic court scheduled for the same day. Gamble said this trial was scheduled first. In domestic court, among matters being argued, Gamble’s ex-wife is seeking the $96,000 Gamble reportedly received from the county in unused vacation and sick time when he retired from his role of Chief Assistant County Prosecutor following the election of his opponent, now County Prosecutor Vito Abruzzino.