Butler County auditor fighting to keep evidence out of civil lawsuit

·5 min read

Sep. 22—Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds finds himself in a unique predicament, trying to defend himself against a host of criminal charges and allegations in a civil lawsuit covering nearly identical facts seeking $1.35 million, simultaneously.

The court cases center on his development dealings with 88-year-old Gerald Parks and his daughter who filed a civil lawsuit a year ago. He was indicted by a Butler County grand jury in February and more charges were added this summer.

Reynolds tried to get the civil lawsuit delayed until after the criminal trial to no avail. Now both proceedings have been delayed, the criminal trial was moved from August to December this year and civil case from June of next year to October 2023.

Parks' attorney Chip Goff is asking visiting Judge Dennis Langer — all seven Common Pleas Court judges recused themselves from both proceedings — presiding over the civil case to force Reynolds to turn over interviews the sheriff recorded with one of the developers involved in the case, Brian Jimenez, in the criminal investigation. Reynolds' civil attorney Andy Yosowitz refused to produce the evidence because they want to use them to impeach the witness.

"Defendants have an interest in determining the extent of a witness's present unrefreshed recollection," he wrote. "Prior disclosure of the statements affords witnesses an opportunity to tailor testimony in accordance with their prior statement."

Reynolds' civil attorney has access to the tapes because Reynolds received them as part of the discovery in the criminal trial. Goff was told to get them directly from the sheriff or the Ohio Attorney General's Office, who is prosecuting the criminal case.

"Plaintiff's counsel did reach out to the Attorney General's Office and was advised they would not produce the recorded statements while the investigation was continuing or before the trial was concluded," Goff wrote in a memorandum to Langer .

When the judge denied Reynolds' request to delay the proceedings, legal experts predicted issues would arise.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell, who was a civil litigator for many years, said based on his background on both sides of the fence "my preference on both sides of it would be that the civil case get stayed." He said many "complications" can arise in both cases as a result of simultaneous court cases.

"It makes sense why defense council in the civil case would not want it to go forward, because you don't want any more information out there or anybody being forced to testify when there's still jeopardy hanging over your client," Fornshell said. "On the plaintiff's side you want to kind of put the screws to them and get them under oath and start getting some of that information out there."

The civil lawsuit also named Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell and Butler County plan commissioner Buck Rumpke, alleging bribery, ethics violations and interference in the development of a senior living community on land he owns in the township. There were 22 counts in all including a request for punitive damages.

Goff recently excused Farrell and Rumpke from the lawsuit and filed an amended complaint on Monday with only six counts.

The bulk of the lawsuit centers on Reynolds and his efforts to get a development called Red Oaks Commons developed on land owned by his father in West Chester Twp. and defeating a similar development by the Clover Group on Parks' land in Liberty Twp. It is intertwined in the criminal charges.

The portion of the lawsuit that directly involved Farrell and Rumpke 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 alleged 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.

In the original complaint Goff said Rumpke voted in favor of Red Oaks but against the Clover Group's project as a Planning and Zoning commissioner and at the Liberty Twp. trustee meeting on May 18, 2021 "illegally stated low income senior housing needs to be in a more appropriate area" about the Clover Group project, allegedly trying to get the trustees to turn it down because he was "conspiring" with Reynolds.

The new complaint barely mentions Farrell and Rumpke. The original complaint devoted a good deal of ink discussing a $500 campaign contribution Reynolds made to Farrell's campaign, there is only a brief mention of the contribution now and says it was made while the trustees were considering the development.

A new wrinkle in the case is a statement that alleges Reynolds told one of the development companies — there are several involved in the case — he had spoken with Farrell about the issue of green space, which was one of the reasons the project for Parks' land was denied,

"Despite advising Grand Traditions, LLC that he discussed their project and its green space with Trustee Tom Farrell, in fact, Roger Reynolds never spoke to Trustee Tom Farrell about the project and its green space," the complaint reads.

Farrell was officially dismissed from the lawsuit in August but Reynolds' attorney will depose him on Oct. 18.

Farrell told the Journal-News he asked his attorney about the deposition, "I asked him, I thought I was out of it, and he goes well you are, but anybody in this case can still depose or put you on their witness list."

The suit still also contends Reynolds used his office to remove an agricultural tax break from Parks' property causing his property taxes to increase and hitting him with a $13,050 "recoupment" charge.