June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Medina County clerk of courts accused of campaigning on the job

Read the complaint and answer from federal court:
• June 7: Julie Kauffman’s lawsuit
• June 20: David Wadsworth’s answer
• July 8: Kauffman’s amended lawsuit

A special prosecutor is investigating accusations Medina County Clerk of Courts David Wadsworth worked on his November election campaign on taxpayers’ time.

County Sheriff Tom Miller said deputies interviewed Wadsworth in December but didn’t know what action, if any, would result.

“It is up to the special prosecutor,” Miller said.

David Wadsworth

Miller said Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter was appointed as special prosecutor, but declined to comment further.

Baxter did not return a call Friday for comment.

The appointment of a special prosecutor came after one of the clerk’s employees — former Deputy Clerk Julie Kauffman — went to county Prosecutor Dean Holman in August and reported that Wadsworth had campaigned during working hours at the clerk’s office.

Kauffman, 51, was fired in February after 10 years of service.

Specifics of Kauffman’s allegations — that Wadsworth used clerk’s office materials in his campaign, pressured his workers to vote for him, kept a map of yard signs in his office and filmed a political advertisement there — are contained in a lawsuit filed in federal court in June.

Kauffman filed the suit June 7 in U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio, claiming her First Amendment rights to free speech were violated because she wrongfully was fired in retaliation for taking her complaints to Holman.

Holman declined to comment Friday.

In her suit, Kauffman is seeking reinstatement to her job, damages from the county and from Wadsworth, attorneys’ fees and a declaratory judgment that Wadsworth violated her constitutional rights.

Wadsworth referred questions to his attorney, Richard Williams, of Columbus.

“We don’t really have a response for you,” Williams said. “We deny the allegations.”

Williams filed a motion to dismiss the suit June 18.

Kauffman was fired on Feb. 1 — the day she returned from a monthlong leave to care for her husband, who had a heart attack, according to her lawsuit.

“Upon firing her, Wadsworth told Kauffman she should go be with her husband,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit charges that by denying Kauffman “her right to reinstatement of her position or an equivalent position,” Wadsworth violated the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

In a June 20 response to the allegations, Williams asserted Kauffman was not a “satisfactory” employee and had not received approval to take the leave.

Kauffman has until July 18 to file the next response.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent in Cleveland.

The lawsuit, as amended Monday, names Wadsworth as a defendant, along with Medina County and county commissioners.

Kauffman is represented by Matt Besser, of the Cleveland law firm of Bolek, Besser & Glesius.

Former Clerk of Courts Kathy Fortney hired Kauffman in 2001 and promoted her to chief deputy clerk in 2006.

Fortney retired partway through her term in 2010 after serving 22 years as clerk. Wadsworth was appointed by the county Republican Party in January 2011. He won a full six-year term in the November 2012 election.

In her lawsuit, Kauffman said she became aware of “public corruption” in the clerk’s office and reported her concerns to the county prosecutor in August 2012.

The lawsuit lists several specific allegations that Wadsworth:

• Used a clerk’s office fax machine to send a campaign document in February 2012 and then asked a worker how to delete the record of his use of the machine.

• Compelled employees to help him fundraise and to put up his political signs in their yards.

• Kept a map of yard signs in his office at the courthouse.

• Filmed a campaign ad in the office that pictured workers and tried to get workers to sign releases to allow him to use them in ads.

• Tried to solicit campaign contributions from clerk of courts employees.

Wadsworth was the subject of earlier controversies.

In June 2011, a letter was sent to all clerk of courts employees urging them to campaign for Wadsworth and suggesting they could lose their jobs if Wadsworth lost the November 2012 election.

“If another Clerk from a different political party should be elected in 2012,” the letter read, “he or she might ‘clean house’ like each of the Medina County Prosecutors did following the 1980, 1984 and 1988 elections.”

Wadsworth apologized for the letter in August 2012, saying a campaign volunteer, Joseph Salzgeber, sent out the letter without his approval.

During last fall’s campaign against Democratic challenger Maryann Chandler, Wadsworth was criticized by his Republican predecessor, Fortney, who accused Wadsworth of politicizing the clerk’s office.

“I wish now I had never left the office,” Fortney said in an interview with the Gazette in October.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.

Nick Glunt About Nick Glunt

Nick Glunt primarily covers courts and crime in Medina County. He served The Gazette from September 2012 to December 2015. Contact him at (330) 721-4048 or via email at nglunt@medina-gazette.com.