MOUNT VERNON — New developments in the John Freshwater case could leave Freshwater without administration-funded representation a month before a civil suit is scheduled for trial.
Attorneys Robert H. Stoffers, Jason R. Deschler and the law firm of Mazanec, Raskin, Ryder & Keller Co. LPA have filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for Freshwater in the civil lawsuit filed by John and Jane Doe against Freshwater and the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education.
Stoffers and Deschler are representing Freshwater on behalf of the school district because Freshwater was employed as a teacher when the incident happened. Freshwater is also represented in this suit by his private attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton.
The petition, filed Tuesday, states circumstances taking place on Friday will not allow Stoffers and Deschler to represent Freshwater within the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.
Stoffers said this morning he could not comment on the motion or specifics of Friday’s circumstances. A message left for Deschler was not returned by press time.
In addition to the civil lawsuit, Freshwater is involved in a contract termination hearing involving the board of education. Freshwater has been suspended from teaching since August 2008 pending completion of the termination hearing.
For the second time during the termination hearing, Hamilton has asked referee R. Lee Shepherd to close the remainder of the hearing to the media and the public.
According to the motion presented to Shepherd on Tuesday, Hamilton is arguing the future jury in the civil case could be tainted by continued media coverage of the termination hearing.
“The cognitive influence of primacy and recency in the federal trial as eventual jurors may be influenced or biased as a result of the media reports emanating from the remaining hearing testimony to be taken in this matter. ... John Freshwater may be further unduly harmed by uniformed recipients of journalism that is designed to sell news rather than present a fair and balanced report,” the motion states.
The motion further states potential witnesses, both minor and adult, are unwilling to commit fully to testifying “to matters favorable to John Freshwater due to the prospect of being portrayed in the media.”
Hamilton also refers to an anonymous source who has left information for Freshwater. The motion states a belief that a closed hearing would likely bring the anonymous source out from the shadows and into a witness seat.
The motion further argues it was Freshwater’s right and decision to make the hearing open in the first place. With the change of circumstances, Hamilton argues it remains Freshwater’s right to close the hearing.
Shepherd’s office said he was in court this morning, but a return call is expected with an answer on the motion.
The termination hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday at the school board’s Central Office building at 300 Newark Road.
A call to Mount Vernon City Schools Superintendent Steve Short was unreturned at press time.
The civil lawsuit against the board, superintendent and principal was officially dismissed in October 2009.