Federal Judge Blocks Former Deputy’s Subpoena For Athens Police Records

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A federal magistrate judge has granted the Athens Police Department’s request to quash a subpoena seeking apparently sealed records.

The records relate to the 2011 prosecution of Joel Kelly, son of former Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly, on a misdemeanor charge. The records were sought by Shannon Sheridan, a former sheriff’s deputy who is suing Patrick Kelly in federal court, claiming he was unlawfully fired by then-sheriff Kelly in retaliation for exercising his free speech rights.

Sheridan had subpoenaed from Athens police all documents pertaining to an assault allegation made against Joel Kelly by Josh Wise. The assault was alleged to have occurred at an Athens restaurant.

The police department responded that its files showed no such records, but added that its response “does not preclude the possibility of unlisted arrests, expunged/sealed records or criminal investigation records…”

Sheridan’s attorney insisted that the records must exist because the 2011 incident was reported in local media, but the police department’s official position was that there are no such records. However, the department also pointed the federal court to the Ohio law on court-ordered sealing of records, which states that such records are to be treated as if they do not exist and never existed.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers noted that newspaper reports stated that Joel Kelly accepted a plea bargain in which he agreed to plead guilty to persistent disorderly conduct, and that Municipal Court Judge William Grim had told Kelly that he could petition to have the conviction expunged after a year.

“…The court logically concludes that Joel Kelly’s conviction has been expunged and sealed by the state court,” Deavers wrote. “Under Ohio law, law enforcement agencies are to treat expunged records as if they do not exist. This court cannot compel records that do not exist and will not compel APD to violate the statute.”

Deavers noted that if Sheridan wants the records sought in the subpoena, he can petition municipal court to unseal them.

In claiming that the Joel Kelly records are relevant to Sheridan’s lawsuit, Sheridan’s attorney claims that Patrick Kelly showed up at his son’s change-of-plea hearing and threatened to arrest his son’s accuser (a nephew of the sheriff’s political opponent) on a misdemeanor warrant from another county. Also, the attorney pointed out that Joel Kelly was a reserve sheriff’s deputy.

“The documents sought by the subpoena are relevant to two broad issues in this case — whether defendant (Patrick) Kelly has a pattern of using the powers on his office to intimidate his political opponents or those whom he perceives as not supporting him and whether defendant Kelly’s termination of (Sheridan) from his employment was disproportionate in comparison to how he has disciplined or not disciplined misconduct engaged in by other members of the Athens County Sheriff’s Department, including Joel Kelly,” Sheridan’s attorney asserted.

Sheridan was fired in 2012 based on accusations of insubordination and sexual harassment, although Sheridan claims in his federal lawsuit it was because Sheridan told voters that Kelly lacked the ethical and moral standards to be sheriff. The State Personnel Board of Review ordered Sheridan reinstated, but he was later fired again by Interim Sheriff Rodney Smith.