MEDINA TWP. — While the misdemeanor charge against Kia dealership owner Bill Doraty has been dropped, his civil case against the township has been moved to federal court, and a local businessman has filed a lawsuit against township trustees for allegedly violating Ohio’s Sunshine Law.
On Sept. 29, Special Prosecutor Thomas Weinreich of Parma filed a sign charge against Doraty for allegedly violating the township’s zoning code by using inflatable displays on the roof of his dealership, which he has been doing since 2008.
Weinreich later requested the misdemeanor charge against Doraty be dismissed in Medina Municipal Court.
The case was dismissed “without prejudice” on Monday. The decision means the prosecutor can revisit the issue again, said Doraty’s attorney, Laura Mills of Wadsworth.
“It’s good news for us,” Mills said.
Trustee Ray Jarrett has said Doraty’s displays exceed allowable signage under the zoning code. The inflatables are considered signage because they draw attention to the business, he said.
An inflatable turkey was perched above Doraty’s dealership at 2925 Medina Road on Friday.
During a township meeting on Oct. 28, a question arose whether trustees Sally Gardner and Jarrett followed proper procedure when deciding to pursue the misdemeanor charge against Doraty, which prompted businessman Michael Baach to file his lawsuit on Thursday.
The suit alleges trustees violated Ohio’s Sunshine Law regarding open meetings.
During the meeting, Doraty asked trustees if all three were present when they decided to charge him, a transcript excerpt from the meeting shows.
Trustee Michael Todd said he was not present during any such meeting and did not know that one had taken place.
“I don’t know when it was done,” Todd said.
According to the transcript, Gardner said Todd was not present during the meeting where it was decided to file the misdemeanor charge against Doraty.
Mills, who also represents Baach, alleged if any such meeting was held between Gardner and Jarrett, it was not done in public, which is a violation of the Sunshine Law.
Any time there is a majority of the board, which is two members in this case, a public meeting must be called even if the board immediately goes into executive session, Mills said.
“The way it sounds, these two just met and discussed it themselves,” Mills asserted.
All three trustees are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Jarrett, however, said Friday night there was a resolution made at a public meeting to proceed with legal action against Doraty, but he was the only trustee to discuss the misdemeanor charge with Weinreich.
“I had a conversation with our attorney and they laid out a series of actions that need to be taken. Those actions were laid out. There was never any other trustees involved in it. When the attorney and I met, they suggested that would be the way to go.”
Gardner did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
Baach, president of Philpott Rubber Co. in Brunswick and a township resident, said he is asking the officials to follow the rules.
“If anyone runs for office, I assume they have done their due diligence and they can walk in there and do what we have elected them to do,” Baach said. “All I’m asking is that they act appropriately.”
If the court rules in Baach’s favor, the court likely would issue an injunction against the trustees telling them to follow the law, Mills said.
Baach also is requesting $500, court costs and attorney fees.
Meanwhile, Doraty’s lawsuit filed Oct. 8 against trustees and other township officials has been moved to federal court in Cleveland.
Mills said Weinreich requested the move because Doraty alleges his constitutional rights are being violated by the township’s zoning code.
Scherba Industries of Brunswick, the manufacturer of the inflatables doing business as Inflatable Images, joined Doraty as a plaintiff in the case.
“I feel I have constitutional rights that need to be protected, and I’m asking the courts to step in and protect those rights,” Doraty has said, citing the right to freedom of expression.
The suit also alleges Inflatable Images suffers from a “substantial loss of profits” because the company stands to lose the $1,500 per month Doraty pays to lease the inflatables.
Cleveland law firm Walter and Haverfield will represent the township in federal court. Jarrett said the township’s legal insurance policy would pay the legal fees.
In his suit, Doraty is seeking damages in excess of $25,000 plus attorney fees and costs.
Weinreich could not be reached for comment Friday.
Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.