More than twice as many potential jurors as usual – as many as 100 – will be called for the trial of Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, while the state’s witness list ranges from investigating officers to city employees to election officials to a state court of claims worker.
A closed-door pretrial hearing was held Wednesday afternoon in a small office at Highland County Common Pleas Court, with special prosecutor Robert F. Smith and defense attorney James Boulger present in Hillsboro, and special judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove of Summit County participating by telephone.
The Times-Gazette requested to be present for the hearing, but attorneys said the judge refused the request. Court officials not related to the case with whom The Times-Gazette spoke said it is not unusual for such pretrial hearings to be conducted in closed-door fashion, or by telephone conference.
Hastings was not present for the hearing. Sgt. Chris Bowen of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office was present, but did not sit in for the hearing, although Smith and Boulger asked him to join them briefly before emerging from behind closed doors.
Later, attorneys said no new motions would likely be filed in the case, which is set to go to trial Nov. 7. The attorneys are under a gag order not to speak to the media or comment on social media, as are the witnesses, but the attorneys are permitted to answer procedural questions.
Boulger and Smith said the judge ordered a jury pool that will include 100 people. The usual jury pool for a trial in Highland County is about 40, perhaps as many as 60 in some circumstances, court officials said later.
The large jury pool is likely due to the publicity the case has received and the difficulty that might accompany finding jurors who have not formed an opinion on the case.
Potential jurors will be interviewed in two waves, one beginning at 8 a.m. and the other at 10:30 a.m. when the trial starts. Jury selection could potentially stretch into a couple of days.
Among the list of 27 witnesses subpoenaed by the prosecution are investigators including Kenny Howard from the state auditor’s office, Bowen and Sgt. Randy Sanders from the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Chief Todd Whited of the Hillsboro Police Department.
Safety and service director Todd Wilkin, city auditor Gary Lewis and Hastings administrative assistants Deb Sansone, Heather Collins and Mindy Gall are witnesses subpoenaed by the state. Collins was deposed Friday because she may be unavailable for the trial. Other city workers are listed, as are Debbie Craycraft, director of the Highland County Board of Elections, and Paint Creek fire chief Bradley George.
Witnesses also include Sean Mahorney. As previously reported, investigators possess a taped telephone conversation between Hastings and Mahorney in regard to the mayor’s alleged use of a city dumpster for personal trash. In September, the state filed a motion asking the judge to bar the defense from mentioning a 1983 assault conviction against Mahorney. No ruling has been entered on that motion.
Jeff Clark from the office of the Ohio Court of Claims in Columbus is also listed as a witness.
After a seven-month investigation, Hastings was indicted in July by a Highland County grand jury on four felony counts related to election falsification, theft, theft in office and tampering with records.
Shortly after Hastings was served with the indictments, state auditor Dave Yost, in whose office Smith works, issued a statement saying that the charges “involve allegedly listing a false address on his Declaration of Candidacy form; for claiming a city refund of $500 for a vacant building he owned and for altering documents related to the refund, and; for instructing a contractor to use city dumpsters to dispose of construction debris.”
Hastings has pled not guilty, and originally called the investigation a “witch hunt.” After he was indicted, he said, “I’m only guilty of trying to represent our citizens without the consent of an established political structure.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.