On June 23, 2011, WHP attorneys Matthew Nakon, Joseph Cirigliano, Amy DeLuca and Patrick O’Hara obtained a landmark decision from the Supreme Court of Ohio, through which the Court unseated Stark County Treasurer, Alexander Zumbar (elected in November 2010) and reinstated WHP client Gary D. Zeigler as Treasurer, determining that Mr. Zeigler had been unlawfully terminated from the post. See, State ex rel. Gary D. Zeigler, Stark County Treasurer v. Alexander Zumbar (2011), 2011-Ohio-2939.
The litigation resulted from thefts committed by a former Stark County deputy treasurer, Vincent Frustaci, who worked under Zeigler. Over a period of years, Mr. Frustaci embezzled public funds totaling approximately $3 million dollars. Frustaci’s thefts went undetected by audits completed by the Auditor of the State of Ohio. When the thefts were discovered in 2009, Treasurer Zeigler reported it to authorities and fired Frustaci. However, in an effort to recoup the stolen funds, the Stark County Prosecutor filed suit against Treasurer Zeigler asserting that he was personally liable for the funds embezzled by Frustaci. After the suit seeking recovery of the funds was filed, the Stark County Commissioners publicly announced their plans to use a little-known statute (R.C. 321.38) to summarily remove Treasurer Zeigler from his position, without providing him constitutionally mandated due process rights. R.C. 321.38 had existed in some form since approximately 1880, and provided that upon the filing of a suit against a county treasurer to recover monies collected, but not turned over, the county commissioners could vote to remove the treasurer from office, even if the county treasurer committed no crime or had not been negligent. The Stark County Commissioners voted to remove Treasurer Zeigler, absent any of the constitutional safeguards. Treasurer Zeigler took immediate legal action and filed a quo warranto action with the Supreme Court of Ohio, arguing that the actions of the Stark County Commissioners violated Art. II, Section 38 of the Ohio Constitution (the provision which provides for due process – i.e. a complaint and hearing before removal) and further challenged that any subsequent person occupying the position of Stark County Treasurer for the remainder of Treasurer Zeigler’s term (September 2013) was doing so illegally.
Following the submission of briefs and oral arguments, the Supreme Court of Ohio, in a 5-2 decision, ruled in favor of Treasurer Zeigler. Pursuant to the Court’s Opinion, R.C. 321.38 was declared unconstitutional, the action taken by the Stark County Commissioners was invalidated as failing to comply with Art. II, Section 38 of the Ohio Constitution and Treasurer Zeigler was reinstated to his position for the remainder of his term. You can read the full decision of the Ohio Supreme Court at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2011/2011-ohio-2939.pdf