Church Directory Court Case Has Some Twists

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An attorney representing Eliot Kalman, the man accused of defacing the church directory on the Athens County Courthouse, has made a public records request of the county commissioners for all records relating to the directory.

Meanwhile, the judge in the case said Friday he will be notifying attorneys in the case of a decades-old letter in which he told the commissioners, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, that the church directory violated the First Amendment. Also, the original prosecutor in the Kalman case has withdrawn because her husband might be a witness.

Kalman — who asserts that the directory violates the separation of church and state — was arrested in October for putting a First Amendment sticker on the directory (he has acknowledged putting stickers on it multiple times). Since the arrest, the county commissioners have been lobbied by those who want to see the directory taken down and those who want it to stay.

Kalman is charged with criminal mischief, and his case is pending in Athens County Municipal Court.

One of his attorneys, Assistant State Public Defender John Cornely, has made a public records request to the commissioners for all records relating to the directory.

Cornely told The Messenger he is specifically interested in records of previous communication between Kalman and the commissioners relating to the directory.

The Messenger asked Cornely if he is going to raise the issue in the Kalman court case of whether the directory should be on the Courthouse.
“We don’t know if we’re going to raise that issue at all,” Cornely said. “We just are at this point collecting all the information to see what we can go with.”

City Prosecutor James Stanley said he would oppose any effort to introduce at Kalman’s trial the issue of whether the directory should be on the Courthouse.
“That is a separate issue, a First Amendment issue,” Stanley said.

Stanley said at this point he has not talked with Kalman’s attorneys, and doesn’t know if the case can be resolved without a trial.

Stanley has taken over the case from Chief City Prosecutor Lisa Eliason, who said she withdrew because of the possibility that her husband, County Commissioner Lenny Eliason, might be a witness.

On Friday, Judge William Grim said he will be informing attorneys in the case of his involvement in a 1992 letter written to the commissioners about the directory. Grim said he had no recollection of the letter, which was brought to his attention by The Messenger on Friday.

“I remember it (the directory) being an issue, I don’t remember taking a stand,” Grim said.

The letter was written on behalf of the Athens Chapter Executive Board of the American Civil Liberties Union, and at that time Kalman was chairman of that board.

“It is our view that such a list (on the directory) violates the ‘establishment clause’ of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, commonly referred to as separation of church and state,” the letter stated.

The issue at the time was whether the directory, which had been temporarily taken down, should be put back up. It’s unclear if the current directory — which lists the names, addresses and contact information of churches — is the same as the one from 1992. The 1992 letter described it as “a list of church services in the county.”

The letter was signed by David Heaton, but typed under the signature are the names of both Heaton and Grim (who at that time was not judge). Grim said Friday he is a past member of executive board of the ACLU’s local chapter.

Grim pointed out that Kalman has requested a jury trial, and therefore his (Grim’s) role would be limited. However, Grim said he will notify the attorneys in the case about the letter.