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Redfern complaint dropped

Tom Jackson • Mar 26, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Former Ottawa County commissioner Mark Stahl, who claimed he was falsely maligned in campaign literature sent out by the Ohio Democratic Party, has dropped his complaint. 

Stahl’s attorney, Donald Brey, notified the Ohio Elections Commission on Friday his client wasn’t going to pursue the case. Stahl’s filing dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning he could file again if he so chooses.

While Stahl’s case appears to be dead, the war of words is still alive.

The chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, state Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, had predicted in November that Stahl would drop the complaint rather than answer questions under oath about whether he used county resources to aid his wife’s insurance business.

On Monday, Redfern said his prediction hit the target.

“I predicted then and I’m vindicated now that those allegations that my Republican friends made were groundless and without merit and Mr. Stahl would dismiss his complaint,” Redfern said. “And he did.”

Stahl didn’t return a message left on his cell phone Monday. Brey said Stahl’s cell phone is the best method for reaching him. Stahl also did not return calls in November and January, when a reporter was seeking comment for previous articles on the controversy.

Brey pointed out that Stahl had prevailed in an earlier hearing.

“It did not go to a final hearing,” Brey said. “He thought the point was made and time and resources could be spent on better purposes.”

Stahl sought re-election in November but lost to the Democratic candidate, Jo Ellen Regal. A flyer the Democratic Party mailed out to support Regal last year showed Stahl holding up a quotation from a Port Clinton newspaper, which stated: “Stahl has been working on personal business from his county office.”

Stahl contends the mailer implied the newspaper made the allegation. In fact, the paper ran an article Sept. 28, quoting an allegation made in a lawsuit. Stahl filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.

A commission panel ruled 2-1 there was probable cause Stahl’s complaint was valid, and referred the matter to a hearing before the full commission. The Republican and independent on the panel sided with Stahl, but the Democrat did not. The commission had been scheduled to hold its hearing April 25.

Brey said it’s incorrect for Redfern to say the Democratic Party was vindicated, given that an “objective bipartisan panel” said the flyer was lying.

Asked about Redfern’s prediction that Stahl would flee rather than fight, Brey said Redfern helped make the prediction come true with a “scorched earth” defense that raised the cost of the lawsuit. 

Brey also said Stahl can still decide to press the complaint.

“We have two years from the date of the falsehood to bring it back again, if we choose to do so,” Brey said.

But Stahl has ignored three subpoenas and he apparently doesn’t want to testify under oath about whether he used public resources to help his wife’s business, Redfern said. 

“If it was untruthful, why did he dismiss his complaint?” Redfern said. “He dismissed his complaint because he knows he is guilty.”

Stahl’s financial disclosure form, filed in February at the Ohio Ethics Commission, shows he earned $35,000 a year providing accounting services for Lowe Insurance Services of Williston, his wife’s company.

Diversified Insurance Service LLC of Elmore sued Stahl and Lowe Insurance Services on Sept. 25 last year, claiming Stahl did personal business for Lowe from his county office and that his wife had taken trade secrets from Diversified. The case is scheduled for jury trial in 2014.

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