August 29, 2014

Medina
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Prosecutor: Clerk of court’s 1st-offender deal typical

Loren Genson and Nick Glunt | The Gazette

MEDINA — A visiting prosecutor who agreed to a plea bargain with Medina County Clerk of Courts David Wadsworth to enter a first-time offender program said the deal was typical of one he would offer any defendant.

Wadsworth entered a no-contest plea Sept. 4 to charges he misused public funds during his campaign last fall.

Wadsworth agreed to enter a diversion program at Alternative Paths and if he completes it, his case will be dismissed by Municipal Court Judge Dale Chase.

David Wadsworth

Allegations that Wadsworth was using county equipment and employees in his election campaign were brought to Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman by former Clerk of Courts Chief Deputy Julie Kauffman, who was fired from her post in February.

In a news release from his attorney following his no-contest plea, Wadsworth stated he was not aware one of his employees had been doing campaign work while on taxpayers’ time and using county equipment.

Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter was appointed by Judge James Kimbler to investigate the allegations after Holman recused himself from the case.

Baxter said he believes he was appointed sometime in January, but Holman won’t release the official appointment paperwork, citing an exemption in public records laws for documents that fall under “grand jury secrecy.”

Baxter wouldn’t talk specifically about the deal, but Medina Municipal Court prosecutors said the diversion program offered to Wadsworth was similar to the program offered to many first-time offenders.

Matt Lanier, one of three part-time Medina city prosecutors said the program is “primarily for non-violent, non-sexual offenses and for non-traffic offenses.”

Lanier said in his 10 years in the court he can’t remember a public official going into the diversion program, but said the offense fit the criteria of the program.

“I would say it’s eligible,” Lanier said. “But we always make them enter either a guilty plea or a no-contest plea.”

“I consider it to really be a gift to someone who has a first-time offense,” Lanier said. “Because if you can pay for the program and attend all the sessions, your case will be dismissed.”

Those accepted into the program are required to pay a $550 fee.

Lanier said the most common cases referred to the diversion program include theft charges and underage drinking charges.

Sometimes first-time drug offenders are referred to the program, he said, but often those with drug offenses in the court are not first-time offenders and don’t qualify for the program.

Lenny Hrovat, director of diversion services at Alternative Paths, said everyone in the program goes through a screening process before a treatment plan is created. Hrovat assigns program participants to counselors who specialize in treating their specific needs.

Some attend monthly sessions, some are weekly — typically for six months to a year.

“Its main purpose is to treat people who have severe mental health disorders,” Hrovat said of Alternative Paths, adding most of itsfunding comes from the Medina County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board.

Hrovat said other county employees have been treated at Alternative Paths, but said their charges were not for misuse of public funds.

Like Lanier, Hrovat said Wadsworth’s admittance into the program was appropriate because he didn’t have a criminal history.

While Wadsworth has never been charged with a crime, he has been accused of unethical behavior.

In 2003, a Brunswick Ethics Commission found Wadsworth, then a Brunswick City Council member, “used improper influence” over local business owners about signs regarding a city ballot issue to change the city charter.

At that Ethics Commission hearing in 2003, business owners testified they felt threatened during the fall of 2002 when Wadsworth approached them about signs they had up supporting changing the city to a strong-mayor form of government.

He’s also facing a federal suit from Kauffman, his former deputy, following her termination earlier this year.

Kauffman filed a suit against Wadsworth in federal court in June, alleging that Wadsworth fired her for going to the prosecutor. In the suit, she accused him of using clerk’s office materials in his campaign, pressuring his workers to vote for him, keeping a map of yard signs in his office and filming a political advertisement there.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.