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Residency lawsuit filed in Columbus

WARREN — The Warren bail bondsman who questioned the Trumbull County residency of Republican commissioner candidate Niki Frenchko has taken his legal battle to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

In a civil lawsuit challenging issues with the Ohio Constitution, Thomas S. Cool, through his attorney Rick Brunner, names Frenchko, her domestic partner Joseph Szeman of Mentor, the four members of the Trumbull County Board of Elections, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio Attorney General David Yost, state Auditor Keith Faber, Mentor Public Schools and its Board of Education and the Ohio Department of Education all as co-defendants.

The 300-plus page document, which was filed in the Columbus court Thursday, includes the transcript from the Sept. 8 hearing in which the Trumbull Board of Elections determined Frenchko is a Trumbull County resident. In that hearing, which included a representative of LaRose’s office, board President Mark Alberini said the result did not threaten her candidacy nor voting ability in November.

However, the filing by Cool and his attorney asks the Franklin County court to reverse the decision of the Trumbull elections board. It also asks a judge to rule that Frenchko may not exercise her voting rights in Trumbull County and if elected on Nov. 3, that Frenchko cannot serve as Trumbull County commissioner.

When reached for comment on Thursday, Frenchko called the latest suit “dirty politics” and blamed supporters of her political opponent, incumbent Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka.

Brunner said in that Sept. 8 hearing Frenchko admitted she is in a domestic partnership with Szeman. He said if Frenchko was married, according to Ohio law, she would have to live in Mentor because her family member lives there. He said Ohio law can’t make one rule for married people and another for those in domestic partnerships.

Brunner said the suit includes public officials because all of them have interests, including the state auditor and department of education, due to possible funding issues.

Frenchko also acknowledged during the hearing that some residency issues may have to be addressed if she is elected commissioner, Brunner said.

“So that’s why I included the attorney general and prosecutor, to put them on alert,” he said.

Brunner said he will ask the court to expedite the case.

“I want this settled, at least before Jan. 1,” he said.

Brunner explained he felt the case would be handled with more speed in Franklin County, where most of the state officials involved in the suit live and work. He said if the action were filed in Lake or Trumbull counties, disputes over conflicts of interest “could have bogged down the process of deciding this case.”

The case was assigned to Judge Kimberly Cocroft. A date for the first status conference has not been set, according to the court record.

Frenchko is facing Polivka for election to the Jan. 3 term of commissioner.

“Welcome to more dirty politics by my opponents’ operatives,” Frenchko said Thursday.

She also wondered who is backing Cool’s effort to pay for all this legal action.

“Identifying who is funding this effort is the real story,” she said. “It’s not coincidental that the Brunner-Quinn law firm was working against me and against (Commissioner Mauro) Cantalamessa at the same time.”

Cantalamessa, another incumbent Trumbull County commissioner, is being challenged for his seat by independent candidate Dennis Malloy.

“Cantalamessa and I brought changes in county transportation that lost Community Bus Services a contract. I believe we are now targets for putting people over politics,” Frenchko said noting her actions while serving on the county transit board.

An attempt to reach Cool for comment was unsuccessful on Thursday afternoon.

Frenchko could see one bright side to all this legal action surrounding her candidacy.

“I’d also like to thank my opponents for giving me more free press than I could ever afford to purchase,” she said.

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