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Monday, July 27,2009

Dem party chair appeals election ruling against her

By Athens NEWS Web Editor

Athens County Democratic Party Chair Susan Gwinn has filed an appeal of a decision by the Ohio Elections Commission, which found in June that she broke state elections law during her campaign for the county prosecutor seat in 2008.

The special prosecutor who put together the case against Gwinn, however, has reportedly filed a motion asking a Franklin County judge to dismiss Gwinn's appeal.

On June 11, the OEC heard a complaint against Gwinn filed by Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost, who had been hired by Athens County as a special prosecutor to look into allegations of campaign finance improprieties by Gwinn's campaign.

Athens County Prosecutor C. David Warren has said he asked for a special prosecutor to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. Warren, a Democrat, was the incumbent county prosecutor whom Gwinn tried to unseat in the 2008 party primary, despite the fact that she was the county party chair.

After hearing the evidence against Gwinn, the OEC voted 6-0 that she had violated state elections law. The offenses had to do with how she handled $27,000 worth of money used on her campaign. She claims the money was personal loans to her from her brother and a Massachusetts man, which she opted to spend on her campaign and planned to pay back from her own pocket. The OEC, however, apparently viewed the money as political donations, which Gwinn should have reported as such to the county Board of Elections.

After making its finding, the OEC decided to turn the case over to the Athens County Prosecutor's Office for investigation as a possible criminal matter. Yost has indicated he wants to continue handling the case, but Gwinn has asked that it be reassigned to another prosecutor.

In an appeal filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court July 8, Gwinn's attorney, Donald J. McTigue, listed 14 reasons why the OEC's decision should be overturned, including a claim that the filing of the complaint by Yost was "improperly motivated by political considerations."

The appeal also claims that the OEC's actions violated Gwinn's rights to due process, equal protection under law, and political speech and association; that Yost's complaint "is not an affidavit based on personal knowledge," and therefore doesn't legally trigger the commission's jurisdiction in the case; that the OEC violated its own rules by not holding an evidentiary hearing before it ruled on the case; that evidence Yost presented to the OEC was improperly obtained; that the evidence fails to establish the necessary mens rea (guilty intention or state of mind) to find Gwinn guilty of breaking the law; and that the laws governing the reporting of loans to a campaign committee are unconstitutionally vague.

An amended version of the appeal added further details, such as the claim that Yost's complaint never alleged that Gwinn actually concealed campaign donations, but only that she "attempted to conceal" or took actions "designed to conceal" the source of the funds. This is not sufficient to prove law-breaking, McTigue contended.

Yost has confirmed filing a motion to dismiss the appeal, but has consistently refused to comment on the case. The Athens NEWS was unable to obtain a copy of the dismissal motion by Friday of last week.


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