Bellbrook superintendent seeks dismissal of charges; state wants criminal trial

Doug Cozad, superintendent, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools

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Doug Cozad, superintendent, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools

A special prosecutor this week asked the Xenia Municipal Court to reject Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school Superintendent Doug Cozad’s motion to dismiss his misdemeanor charges. Cozad has been charged with four counts of illegal transaction of public funds and four counts of dereliction of duty.

Samuel Kirk, the state auditor’s special prosecutor, said Cozad failed to provide “clear and convincing evidence” when his lawyer filed two motions to dismiss the case on June 7. Cozad’s lawyer, Jim Fleisher, claimed in the motions that the charges were unconstitutional and the Auditor of the State did not have the authority to bring the charges against Cozad.

The state’s new filing said “there were no facts to support” that the state unconstitutionally discriminated against Cozad, and did not single out Cozad, as charges were brought against the entire school board. The state’s filing said Cozad “is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing to conduct a fishing expedition,” and requested that the court “set this case for trial.”

Cozad is accused of misusing public funds to support the passage of a May 2019 school levy. One of Cozad’s alleged misspending was through a newsletter sent to the community which allegedly included pro-levy arguments and titled a full-page with the PAC’s slogan, “Strong Schools, Strong Community,” according to the state.

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“Defendant Cozad went far beyond providing mere information and instead coordinated the school’s publicly-funded communications with those of his PAC,” Kirk said.

The state argued that the jury should decide whether Cozad was informing the public on school resources or “openly advocating for the passage of the levy” through the newsletter. The filing said the Auditor of State acted within its authority to appoint investigators who can pursue criminal charges because they are considered peace officers.

“The auditors investigators have ‘all of the powers and authority of a peace officer under the laws of this state,” Kirk said. “’All’ does not mean ‘some.’ ”

In a response to the state on Wednesday, Fleisher said the Auditor of State “provides no historical support for this unprecedented prosecution.” He said the state made a “misguided effort” to list Cozad as a member of the school district’s governing body, saying that applies only to the board of education.

The motion to dismiss included the argument that other school boards and superintendents across the state have acted in the same manner, which Fleisher re-emphasized in his response.

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“There is no rational distinction between the communications allegedly approved by Dr. Cozad and the communications made by school districts throughout the state of Ohio over the course of the past several years,” Fleisher said.

Fleisher rebutted multiple claims made in the state’s response and called the prosecution “the very embodiment of arbitrary enforcement” due to vague language and lack of precedent.

“This Court is confronted with a procedural and substantive Frankenstein of a case,” Fleisher said before again requesting the case be dismissed.

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