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Political chicken plays out in court

WARREN — The recent filing at the Ohio Supreme Court by former Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka over Republican rival Niki Frenchko’s residency has kept alive an appeal in Franklin County court made by another Frenchko nemesis, Warren bail bondsman Thomas Cool.

Both matters are centered upon whether Trumbull County Commissioner Frenchko lives in Trumbull County — or in Lake County.

Polivka, who was defeated in November by Frenchko at the polls, on June 7 filed a special action with the high court known as a “quo warranto,” which asks the body to remove Frenchko as commissioner because she is not qualified.

Polivka, through his lawyers Rick Brunner and Patrick Quinn, told the court Frenchko has “usurped, intruded into, and unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, namely the office of County Commissioner of Trumbull County” and that Polivka “is entitled to the office of Trumbull County commissioner …”

Frenchko stated in a email that the court filing is “more frivolous legal maneuvers from a desperate losing candidate. We’ll handle it like we have everything else.”

In a letter to Frenchko, the high court gives her until June 28 either to answer the complaint or file a motion with the court to dismiss it.

Polivka already lost at the Ohio Supreme Court level a few months ago when the high court upheld the defeat of his election protest, which was ruled on at the end of 2020 by a visiting retired Stark County judge shortly before Frenchko took office.

Meanwhile in the 10th District Ohio Court of Appeals, based in Franklin County, Cool is appealing his defeat of a civil lawsuit that protested Frenchko being declared a Trumbull County resident by a September 2020 action of the Trumbull County Board of Elections.

In a filing made May 24 by Brunner, Cool asked the appeals court to stay any action on the appeal until after Polivka’s quo warranto action is heard.

Frenchko’s lawyer, Joseph P. Szeman, wrote that “Cool has delayed these proceedings and his grounds for requesting another stay are tenuous at best.”

Szeman has asked the appellate court to dismiss the appeal, but the court on April 13 granted Cool’s motion to stay the action pending the outcome of Polivka’s first appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. That action ended with Frenchko prevailing as on April 19, the high court dismissed the case.

But since then, Cool’s lawyer, Brunner, responded with another motion.

“Several of the allegations of Mr. Polivka’s election contest overlap with those which are the subject of Mr. Cool’s declaratory judgment, most principally the allegation that … Frenchko was ineligible to run for, and is ineligible to serve as, a commissioner in Trumbull County.”

Brunner filed a second motion on behalf of Cool on June 9, basically restating the argument. Another twist is that Brunner’s wife is Jennifer Brunner, a Supreme Court justice, who will have to excuse herself from hearing the case.

Both Cool and Polivka believe Frenchko has been and still is a resident of Lake County.

“By her own admission, she does not live here (in Warren),” Polivka said. “I don’t think the (Trumbull County) voters want someone from Lake County representing them.”

When asked about the latest legal developments, Cool referred all questions to his lawyer.

The legal issues center around Frenchko’s daughter enrolling in the Mentor School District a few years back. Because of this, Polivka said Frenchko must be a Mentor resident.

“You have to sign an affidavit with Mentor schools to go to school there or show utility bills because they have a closed school district. You can’t even go to Mentor (schools) if you live in the next town over. You have to live in Mentor to attend their schools.”

Polivka says it’s “high time” that Frenchko comes clean over this issue.

“She needs to admit it and for the good of the county, resign and run in the county she truly lives in.”

Timeline

• April 28, 2020, primary election, Niki Frenchko wins Republican nomination for Trumbull County commissioner, gaining 60.5 percent of the vote to 39.5 percent won by Rex Fee. Incumbent Democrat Daniel E. Polivka also secured the Democratic nomination by defeating two other commissioner candidates.

• July 8, 2020, the county board of elections received a letter from Warren bail bondsman Thomas Cool, a Republican, requesting an investigation regarding Frenchko having a residency in Mentor and questioning her candidacy for the Trumbull County office.

• Sept. 8, 2020, the board of elections, after hearing hours of testimony from Frenchko, votes unanimously that Frenchko is a resident of Trumbull County.

• Sept. 16, 2020, Cool files lawsuit in Franklin County seeking to get the board of elections’ Sept. 8 decision overturned. Judge Kimberly Cocroft in late November dismissed most of the defendants — including Frenchko and her partner Joseph Szeman — in a suit.

• Nov. 3, 2020, election, Frenchko defeats Polivka with 52 percent of vote, ending Polivka’s 16-year run as commissioner.

• Nov. 30, 2020, Polivka, along with 66 petitioned voters of Trumbull County, file civil suit in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court seeking to overturn results of Nov. 3 election. On Dec. 30, Stark County retired Judge John Haas decides in favor of Frenchko, who immediately afterward is sworn into office.

• Jan. 5, 2021, Cool files appeal in 10th District appellate court seeking to overturn opinion of Cocroft in his Franklin County lawsuit against Frenchko. Appellate court presently dealing with motions to dismiss by Frenchko’s lawyer and a motion to stay by Cool’s lawyer.

• Feb. 22, 2021, Polivka files appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court asking to overturn Haas’ Dec. 30, 2020, decision to throw out his contesting of election. High court dismisses appeal on April 19, 2021.

• June 7, 2021, Polivka files action in Ohio Supreme Court, asking that Frenchko be removed from office through disqualification and that Polvika be declared winner by getting the second-highest number of votes in Nov. 3, 2020 election.

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