Judge denies Letson motion

WARREN – A visiting judge Friday denied a motion by state Rep. Tom Letson to dismiss his zoning violation case that remains in Warren Municipal Court.

Prosecutors on the case say the ball is now in Letson’s court and he must explain more details of how a so-called ”sober house” in his old family home on Foster Drive N.E. is being used.

Visiting Portage County Municipal Judge Barbara Watson denied Letson’s motion, in which he argued that the city could not challenge him in criminal court since he has administrative remedies for the zoning squabble.

Letson said after the hearing that he had not formally been given any decision by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals on what he referred to as an accommodation for the property, rather than a variance.

City Prosecutor Traci Timko Rose said the city already denied the particular use, or any zoning change, for the property and she agreed to get Letson a copy of the decision.

Third Ward Councilman John Brown said after the hearing that he hopes home rule prevails. It is constituents in his ward who have complained about the house and the number of occupants.

Rose and Law Director Greg Hicks both say that even though there is merit to Letson’s contention that provisions of the Federal Disability Act should prevail in the case, the city still must hear more about the house and how it’s used.

”If you ask for an accommodation, you have to prove some things for a reasonable accommodation. You can’t create a fundamental alteration to property. We have to know who’s supervising the house. How many live there? What rules are in place?” Hicks questioned.

Letson, a Democrat, is accused of using the home he owns on Foster Drive N.E. as a boarding or rooming house, which, under the city’s zoning codes, is not an acceptable use for a dwelling in that neighborhood.

The state representative, who is prevented from seeking another term because of term limits, said he rented the home to two men who are using it to help people recover from addiction. Letson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge, has already declared himself a candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court.

A second pretrial was scheduled by Watson for 10 a.m. April 11.