MOUNT VERNON — In the continuing dispute between John Freshwater and the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, Freshwater’s attorney R. Kelly Hamilton filed a petition with the Knox County Common Pleas Court asking that certain individuals be compelled to submit documents and testify in Freshwater’s contract termination hearing.
On July 7, Judge Otho Eyster denied the petition based on a section of the Ohio Revised Code which “limits the court’s jurisdiction to compelling attendance at a hearing when a person fails to comply with a subpoena.”
In public record documents obtained by the News, Eyster’s ruling concluded, “In this case, the Board has quashed the subpoenas effectively divesting this Court of jurisdiction in the matter and ... the petition is denied.”
As background information, the school board did issue subpoenas to certain members. Those board members did not refuse to comply with a subpoena, they went through a procedure to have the subpoena quashed. They asked the board to quash the subpoenas because they did not have direct knowledge concerning the allegations about Freshwater. Any testimony they could give would, basically, be inadmissible hearsay and irrelevant to the hearing. Based on the individuals’ lack of first-hand knowledge of Freshwater’s conduct in the classroom — they did not witness any of the acts leading to the termination hearing nor did they participate in the investigation into Freshwater’s conduct — the board quashed the subpoenas. That means those board members were under no legal obligation to attend the hearing.
Eyster spoke with the News on Thursday to clarify and interpret the legal terminology in his decision. First, he explained, to quash a subpoena means it’s as if it never existed.
Because the subpoenas were quashed, Eyster said, there were no subpoenas in place for him to enforce. He didn’t rule on whether or not the board acted improperly in quashing the subpoenas; he basically said he couldn’t order someone to attend the hearing if there was nothing in place to compel their attendance.
Since the matter is an administrative hearing, the judge said, the board has the legal authority to issue and quash subpoenas. He added that he has no grounds under law to overturn the board’s decision to invalidate the subpoenas in this case.
The way the law is structured, Freshwater has the right to appeal whatever decision the board makes regarding his contract termination. If Freshwater does appeal to the court of common pleas at that time, the judge may or may not require additional testimony not presented during the administrative hearing.