Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Auditor-prosecutor fight now a federal case

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The battle between the Butler County auditor and prosecutor has entered a new arena: federal court.

        Through her attorney, Auditor Kay Rogers on Tuesday filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati against Prosecutor John F. Holcomb.

        The lawsuit seeks $150,000 in damages, alleging that Mr. Holcomb violated Ms. Rogers' right to free speech.

        Ms. Rogers, a Republican, criticized the Democratic prosecutor's political fund-raising methods last fall. The lawsuit alleges that he “publicized private matters involving (her) personal life solely in retaliation” at a Dec. 21 news conference where he announced ethics allegations against her.

        “I've never seen anything like (this lawsuit),” Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said Tuesday. “It's sort of a bare-knuckles political brawl.”

        Mr. Holcomb said he has an “absolute defense” — the truth

        — against Ms. Rogers' claims. Ms. Rogers declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit, which accuses Mr. Holcomb of defamation, invasion of privacy and malicious interference in her employment.

        “It would be unethical and difficult” for Mr. Holcomb to continue serving as legal counsel for the auditor's office, Mr. Greenwood said. That means the county probably will have to pay someone else to perform those duties.

        Also, Mr. Greenwood points out that Mr. Holcomb probably will need a separate lawyer to defend him in federal court — and the taxpayers probably will have to pay for that, too.

        For this lawsuit to succeed, Ms. Rogers will have to prove that Mr. Holcomb's actions were motivated mostly by what she said about him — and that his actions had a chilling effect on her free speech, Mr. Greenwood said, adding, “It's a tough standard.”

        He also said he thinks Ms. Rogers' claims would have been more appropriately pursued in common pleas court.

        In the lawsuit, Ms. Rogers' attorney, Konrad Kircher of Cincinnati, alleges that Mr. Holcomb “grossly mischaracterized the facts” about Ms. Rogers' intervention in a dispute between her boyfriend and his ex-wife.

        Mr. Holcomb claimed that Ms. Rogers “may have engaged in influence peddling” by repeatedly making phone calls to a victim's advocate, who is assisting the ex-wife.

        Ms. Rogers only wanted the victim advocate to discourage the ex-wife from continuing to call Ms. Rogers or her boyfriend, Mr. Kircher said.

        But Mr. Holcomb on Tuesday argued that Ms. Rogers' motivation was to prevent the ex-wife, who had already filed domestic violence-related charges against Ms. Rogers' boyfriend, from pursuing further court action.


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