The Athens County Prosecutor and the local Public Defender's office are in a dispute over whether a woman who was implicated in a recent criminal case against a Nelsonville Police officer should be allowed to keep working for the Public Defender's (PD) office.
When officer Joshua Braglin was charged with evidence tampering last month, his reported girlfriend, Sheena Bauer, ended up facing charges in connection with the incident as well, for obstructing justice and obstructing official business.
This has led to the 24-year-old Bauer's also being charged with probation violations in connection with two older criminal cases. Those alleged violations, in turn, have led to her being forbidden to show up to her job with the Athens office of the Ohio Public Defender.
That suits Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, who has been trying to convince the PD's office for about the last year that Bauer should not be working there, based on her felony record. The PD's office disagrees.
Blackburn said Friday that he thinks Ohio law says Bauer's past convictions for forgery, theft, perjury and misuse of credit cards make her ineligible to hold her state job.
"Clearly she qualifies to be reviewed under the statute, because she was convicted of a felony theft offense," Blackburn said.
The statute in question, Ohio Revised Code section 2961.02, states in part that someone convicted of such an offense "is incompetent to hold a public office or position of public employment or to serve as a volunteer, if holding the public office or position of public employment or serving as the volunteer involves substantial management or control over the property of a state agency, political subdivision, or private entity."
Herman Carson, an attorney with the local PD's office, said Blackburn is simply wrong about the statute's applying to Bauer.
"He has difficulty understanding extremely concise statutes, apparently," Carson said. "This is a fourth-grade reading level. You read the statute, and it doesn't apply to her because of the position she's in." He said Braglin oversees no state funds, and is in the lowest employee grade in the office.
The head of the local PD's office, Glenn Jones, said the same to Blackburn in a letter last March, after Blackburn, having heard the agency was planning to hire Braglin, warned Jones he thought state law didn't allow it.
In Jones' letter, he told Blackburn he had contacted the state PD's human resources department, who "informed me that that issue of R.C. 2961.02 has already been addressed with the Department of Administrative Services. There are no issues with an entry-level position."
Blackburn replied Friday that he has gotten the opposite message from a DAS official he has spoken to. As for the argument that Bauer doesn't oversee state funds, Blackburn said, "I would think that 'state property' would include computers owned by the state of Ohio, and an office leased by the state of Ohio."
The Athens NEWS called DAS for clarification Friday, but the agency was unable to supply a response before the paper's press time.
Bauer, meanwhile, can't go to her job, as she is under house arrest for an alleged probation violation – largely stemming from her involvement in a Jan. 13 incident at or hear her home in Hocking County's Murray City.
Police were called to the area for a reported domestic dispute, and allegedly found Braglin, intoxicated, and wearing an empty gun holster. Officers found his gun, unsecured, in his vehicle, and say they believe Braglin lied about not having had it in his possession while drunk.
Bauer was granted judicial release from prison in April 2011, and placed on community control probation. Last November, she was charged with violating her release by drinking alcohol, getting arrested for drunk driving, pleading guilty to reckless operation, and failing to pay complete restitution to three victims of her theft offenses.
On Feb. 8, Blackburn's office filed notice that Bauer had committed 10 probation violations, eight on the night of Jan.12/morning of Jan. 13 (the date of the incident that led to Braglin's charges), and two on Jan. 15.
The notice alleges Bauer was in establishments in Lancaster and Glouster that serve alcohol Jan. 12; that she got into a domestic dispute that night and morning; that she was in possession of and under the influence of alcohol during the same period; that she poured a drink on someone; that she threatened someone with a knife; that she refused to answer the door Jan. 13 when an officer tried to question her; that two days later she tried to impede an investigation; and that she lied to police.
The last two or three alleged violations appear to be the basis for the obstruction charges against Bauer in Hocking County Municipal Court. Those cases were still pending Friday, according to the court's website.
Blackburn informed Jones's office by letter of the violation notice, hinting that PD staff may even have witnessed some of the violations. He confirmed Friday that because Bauer has admitted breaking her probation terms, the court has placed her under house arrest with an ankle monitor until the case is resolved. This means she can leave home to meet with her attorney or deal with childcare, but can't go to her job – where Blackburn thinks she shouldn't be in any case.
Carson said Bauer is still on the payroll. "We were hoping for her to have been here today," she said Friday. "She's an excellent employee."
Asked whether, if Bauer returns to work at some point, he will continue to pursue the issue of her employment, Blackburn said he thinks that would be more of an issue for the state auditor.
When he warned the PD's office not to hire Bauer in the first place, he said, "I was trying to do a professional courtesy to another local office."