A flurry of new orders and memorandums were filed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Drew Hastings case, including a request from the second special prosecutor in the case to be withdrawn because there was insufficient evidence of ethics violations, and an expanded gag order filed by the judge barring anyone associated with the case from commenting publicly.
Also filed was a trial brief again detailing the allegations against Hastings, and a transcript of a deposition by Heather Collins, an administrative assistant in Hastings’ mayoral office that was taken on Oct. 7.
Julie Korte, chief investigative attorney with the Ohio Ethics Commission, was appointed as a second special prosecutor by Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss back in January, after the judge had first appointed Robert F. Smith from the state auditor’s office as special prosecutor. But on Monday, Korte filed a motion requesting to be withdrawn from the case.
Korte stated in her memorandum that her role was to advise “on the investigation regarding the prosecution of any Ohio Ethics Law violations and other criminal laws involving the Defendant. Insufficient evidence was developed by the investigation as to violations of Ohio Ethics Laws.”
Korte added that Hastings was indicted on “four charges unrelated to Ohio’s Ethics Laws” and said those charges “are being ably pursued by the Special Prosecutor.”
Also, an eight-page gag order filed Tuesday by special Judge Patricia Cosgrove expands on a similar order issued by the judge when Hastings was arraigned on Aug. 1. The order bars virtually anyone associated with the case, either as attorneys, witnesses or family members, from commenting to the media or on social media.
“The Court is concerned with the effect which extra jurisdictional statements or comments may have on the within proceedings, and the potential to disrupt the processes by which a fair trial may be preserved,” wrote the judge.
A separate case management order filed by the judge on Tuesday stated that failure to comply with court orders “including the Order Regarding Pretrial and Trial Publicity, could result in sanctions, including exclusion of evidence at trial.”
Cosgrove issued her original gag order during Hastings’ arraignment on Monday, Aug. 1. Just two days earlier, as reported at the time by The Times-Gazette, Gary Lewis, the city auditor who was later listed as a state’s witness, had taken to The Times-Gazette’s Facebook page and referred to several allegations as “facts” in the case.
In July 2015, Lewis issued a $500 refund of a vacant property fee to Hastings after he received a letter with the stamped signature of safety and service director Todd Wilkin instructing him to do so. Wilkin has since told investigators that he did not authorize his stamp to be used on the letter. One of the charges Hastings is facing is in regard to the refund.
In the series of Facebook posts he made on July 30, 2016, two days before Cosgrove first issued a gag order, Lewis wrote, “Fact: A letter was forged and sent to my office authorizing a refund to the mayor. A refund demanded by the mayor but refused by the safety/service director. Is the evidence gathered by the investigators enough to convince a jury that the mayor was complicit to this illegal activity?” He wrote in a separate post, “…it was my name on the check,” adding, “And no, I wasn’t in the wrong.”
Last week, on Oct. 11, in another series of Facebook posts, someone using a pseudonym took issue with a story on the Hastings case. At one point, a post was made and then quickly deleted which appeared to be from the same source but which was apparently accidentally posted under the individual’s real name, a witness in the case.
Cosgrove’s written order filed Tuesday states that “trial participants shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the person knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication…” The order gives several specific examples of the kind of comments that are barred, including comments expressing “any opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant and/or anyone else charged in connection with the alleged events underlying this matter.”
Also this week, the deposition of Heather Collins was filed in court. The deposition was taken October 7 in the Highland County prosecutor’s office, conducted by Robert F. Smith, the special prosecutor in the case, and James Boulger, Hastings’ attorney.
In the deposition, Collins, under questioning by both attorneys, described the process for filing vacant properties with the city and the circumstances under which she came to believe that the request for the $500 refund to the mayor was not properly authorized.
The defense also filed a list of witnesses it is likely to call during the trial, most of whom are also on the state’s witness list filed earlier this month.
Hastings was indicted July 12 by a grand jury after a seven-month investigation on charges of election falsification, theft, theft in office and tampering with records. All the charges are felonies.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Smith filed a trial brief again detailing the allegations against Hastings, saying that:
• Water usage records will show that Hastings lived at a farm outside of town more than at his Hillsboro residence, and also states that the Hillsboro residence has “no bed or bedroom” for his stepdaughter, while his farmhouse “contains two bedrooms and an office.”
• Rumpke bills will show that Hastings cost taxpayers “thousands of extra dollars in dumping fees” through his alleged use of a city dumpster for personal debris, and;
• The “forged memo” requesting the $500 refund “resulted in a theft from the City of Hillsboro by the Defendant in the amount of $500.”
Hastings has pled not guilty to the charges. He called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and after he was indicted 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.