What’s Ahead For Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly?

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After learning Friday he had been indicted on 25 criminal counts, Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly said he plans to show up for work and do his job.

“Business will go on as usual with the Athens County Sheriff’s Office,” Kelly said. “Nothing has changed.”

But he may have no choice but to surrender his office while the criminal case is under way, depending on the outcome of an Ohio Supreme Court process that will determine if a suspension is warranted.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday that he is required by law to file a copy of the indictment — which alleges theft in office and other offenses — with the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.

“That kicks off the proceeding for the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio to determine whether or not Mr. Kelly should step aside as sheriff for the interim until this case is finally resolved,” DeWine said in a news conference Friday.

Under that process, Kelly could voluntarily accept a suspension, although his comments Friday indicate that is unlikely to happen.

“I will not step down as your sheriff and will continue with the same strong leadership and professionalism I have served you with for the past five years,” Kelly posted on Facebook. Kelly said Friday he has not committed any crime.

Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason has called on Kelly to retire.

“I think it would be in the best interests of the county that it be done,” Eliason said, adding that county residents deserve a sheriff who is fully focused on the duties of the office and not dealing with personal legal issues.

Eliason said Kelly leaving office would also save the county the cost of paying both his salary and the salary of the interim sheriff if it becomes necessary for one to be appointed.

“I think Lenny brought up a good point,” Commissioner Chris Chmiel said in regard to the salary issue.

“I just want to wait and see how it all plays out,” Chmiel said. “He (Kelly) says he is innocent. I think we’ve got to wait and see what happens.”

Commissioner Charlie Adkins did not call for Kelly to retire, but said if he was in the same situation as Kelly, he’d step aside.

“I’d step down to take care of my affairs and my family,” Adkins said. “I’m just disappointed in what’s going on. I think it hurts the county.”

If it becomes necessary to pick a temporary sheriff, the commissioners will play a role. Because Kelly is a Democrat, the Democratic Central Committee would pick someone to serve as sheriff if Kelly is suspended. However, the commissioners would name an interim sheriff who would serve until the party acts.

The committee could name the same person or pick someone else.

Eliason said if the situation arises, he would hope that the Central Committee would look at the reasons why the commissioners made their selection, since the commissioners would have to work with any interim sheriff. But he added, “I don’t think we should be dictating to them, if they have someone else in mind.”

Rumors have been circulating about who might be interested in being appointed. One of the people mentioned is Dave Malawista, a former sheriff’s deputy and chief deputy, who also has worked many years as an auxiliary Athens police officer.

“Yes, I’ve expressed interest to the Democratic Party,” Malawista confirmed Saturday, adding that if he were appointed it would be his intention to run for sheriff the next time the office is on the ballot.

“I know the people who work there and I have a relationship with them,” Malawista said.

Capt. Bryan Cooper, second in command at the sheriff’s office, had no comment when asked if he would be interested in being appointed.

Jack Taylor, a lieutenant detective at the sheriff’s office, said it is premature to be talking about who might serve as an interim sheriff, but acknowledged that he probably would be interested in the appointment if the situation arises.

Jay Barrett, an investigator in the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office, said that “in no way” would he seek the appointment.

Adkins said he has not talked with Malawista about the situation, but said he has had discussions with four other people — whom he would not publicly name — who have indicated an interest in an interim appointment.

Under Ohio law, the chief justice must appoint a commission consisting of three retired judges — at least one of whom would have to be a Democrat — to determine if Kelly’s performance in office, as reflected by the charges, adversely affects the functioning of the office or the rights or interests of the public.

If Kelly were to voluntarily accept the suspension, the commission would still determine whether it should remain in place while the criminal case is pending.

However, if Kelly opposes a suspension, the commission would make a preliminary determination whether one is warranted. If the commission makes a preliminary ruling that there should be a suspension, and Kelly doesn’t contest it, then the suspension stands. If he does contest it, Kelly can request a meeting with the commission to state his case. The commission then decides whether to let the suspension stand. If the commission upholds the suspension, Kelly can appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. I

f Kelly contests the suspension, and is convicted, then he is liable for repaying all the compensation he received during the suspension.

Kelly indicated Friday that he will take the case to trial and not plea bargain.

“Do I look forward to it? No, it will cost a lot of money, but in the end, the truth will come out,” Kelly said.