So he’s taking his fight to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Risner, 61, who runs a tree-trimming business and drives a school bus, has been battling in court for years over a 2010 incident in which he hunted a deer near Willard.
He pleaded no contest to a charge of hunting without permission, for allegedly taking the deer on railroad property. Risner has said he actually took the deer on a relative’s property, but the deer died near the railroad tracks. He pleaded no contest to get rid of the case, and he paid a modest fine and costs, figuring it would take care of the matter. State officials had taken possession of the deer.
Instead, the Division of Wildlife stunned Risner by demanding about $27,850 in restitution, claiming the large rack of antlers on the buck Risner took made it unusually valuable.
Risner went to court in April 2013, and he appeared to have won when Huron County Common Pleas Court Judge James Conway ruled in his favor, saying the Ohio Department of Natural Resources can’t try to collect twice on the same deer. Conway ruled that after the ODNR took possession of the deer’s remains, it couldn’t also try to collect restitution. That’s the plain language of state law, Conway wrote.
The judge cited a provision in the law that says the state “may bring a civil action to recover the possession of OR the restitution value” of any wild animal that was taken illegally. Emphasis is added to the “or” the judge cited in the statute.
Unfortunately for Risner, attorneys don’t always agree on the “plain language” of the law.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office appealed, and the Sixth Court of Appeals in Toledo overruled Conway 3-0 in a ruling late last year, writing that nothing in the law prevents ODNR from seeking the restitution.
The appeal filed Feb. 13 on Risner’s behalf to the Ohio Supreme Court by his attorney, Gordon Eyster, asks the Ohio Supreme Court to take the case. It argues that Conway got it right when he ruled the state could take possession of the deer or seek restitution, but not both.
Risner said he always believed in following hunting laws, and he finds it odd he’s in the position of having to fight the state in court.
“I always liked having game wardens,” he said. “To be called a poacher, that hurt me more than anything. I’ve always been on the side of the law”