Saturday, September 04, 1999

Jury: Laundering claims false

Ex-trustee had cited free speech

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ANDERSON TOWNSHIP — A Hamilton County jury this week recommended fines of $33,000 against a University of Cincinnati professor for falsely accusing a township trustee during the 1997 election.

        The jury's verdict recommended that former trustee Robert Dorsey, a professor of construction science, pay $3,000 in nominal damages and $30,000 in punitive damages.

        Mr. Dorsey had accused Peggy Reis, who was running for re-election in 1997, of accepting campaign contributions from Hyde Park Associates laundered through a party fund-raiser in return for a favorable vote on a condominium rezoning.

        The jury also awarded Mrs. Reis legal fees and expenses which she said totaled $65,000.

        “I took no pleasure in taking him to court,” Mrs. Reis said. “All I wanted was to clear my name and reputation of baseless allegations of criminal activity.”

        Mr. Dorsey said he is considering an appeal.

        “I was surprised at the jury's verdict,” Mr. Dorsey said. “Even though she won, I think the bigger issue here is freedom of speech. I had a chance to opt out, but I asked myself whether I should, or should I defend the First Amendment. I don't have any malice. Winning is good for the ego, but losing is good for the soul.”

        Township attorney Frederick Kiel said the verdict sends a message to people who attack public officeholders.

        “This is not just an Anderson Township case,” Mr. Kiel said. “This is something all politicians should look at. This is about defending themselves against libelous remarks.”

        The accusations were made in a letter Mr. Dorsey circulated to about 2,500 residents in Anderson Township during the 1997 campaign. It also was signed by George Faske, Frank Clark and Jeff Conrad who recanted and apologized last year.

        But Mr. Dorsey refused to apologize.

        His letter also said that the township trustees had wasted more than $1 million in the last three years on senseless spending.

        Mr. Dorsey served as a township trustee for 20 years.

        Last year, he accused the trustees of violating election laws by including an article in the township newsletter concerning the campaign to pass a 1-mill road levy.

        The Ohio Election Commission ruled 4-0 last December that publishing the article did not violate election laws.

        The levy passed, 10,000 to 8,190 last November.

        After the commission's ruling, trustees asked that Mr. Dorsey's complaint be declared frivolous and that he pay attorney fees.

        Later, trustees settled with Mr. Dorsey for $2,500, half the cost of their defense.


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