A veteran Jackson city councilwoman and her husband have each been charged with three elections-related charges dealing with the handling of her candidate's petition for the 2017 primary election.
The charges were filed Wednesday, July 5 in Jackson County Municipal Court against Jackson City Councilwoman Loretta Jones and her husband Thomas (Tom) Jones, both of 103 Morton St., Jackson, as the result of a complaint filed by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office. Both appeared for an arraignment Tuesday morning, July 11 before Judge Mark Musick.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Jones face related charges -- two felonies and one misdemeanor each -- relating to alleged election-falsification-related crimes regarding Mrs. Jones' petition to be a Republican candidate for re-election to Jackson City At-Large Council in the May 2 primary election.
Mr. Jones is charged with 5th-degree felony charges of Making A False Certification Or Statement Concerning The Petition Or Declaration and Election Falsification, and also a 1st-degree misdemeanor charge of Making A False Affidavit Or Statement Concerning The Signatures On A Petition.
Mrs. Jones is charged with Complicity to each of the charges filed against her husband with the charges also being the same level of alleged crimes -- two 5th-degree felonies and one 1st-degree misdemeanor.
The complaint alleges Mr. Jones signed a "petition for candidacy" for Mrs. Jones as the circulator even though Mrs. Jones herself circulated and collected 11 of the 21 signatures on one of the sheets of the petition on Monday, January 23. Mrs. Jones' petition was presented to the Jackson County Board of Elections "on or about February 1," with Mr. Jones' signature included as the circulator.
Athens-based attorney Claire (Buzz) Ball represented both Mr. and Mrs. Jones at the arraignment while Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Jill Shriver represented the office of Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Lovett. Ball submitted written pleas of "not guilty" on behalf of both his clients.
After stating that he did not consider the defendants to be "flight risks," Judge Musick granted recognizance bonds for each defendant in the amounts of $12,500 for each of the two felonies and $10,500 for the misdemeanors. At the end of the hearing, Judge Musick announced that he would be recusing himself from the case. The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to assign a new judge to the cases. The court has set a preliminary hearing for Monday, July 24 but that is subject to change, based on the judicial appointment.
As for the root of the criminal investigation, Jackson County Sheriff Tedd Frazier told The Telegram it started as the result of a complaint brought to the sheriff's office by Jackson resident and Jackson City At-Large Council candidate John Peters, who had also filed two previous protests over Mrs. Jones' candidacy with the Jackson County Board of Elections, with the first one stemming from the same situation which resulted in the criminal cases.
When asked about the situation by The Telegram, Jackson County Elections Board members Lorene Johnston and Justin Skaggs both declared emphatically that neither the Elections Board nor any one in the Elections Office had referred the matter to the sheriff's office or requested a criminal investigation.
The same issue regarding Mrs. Jones' candidacy petition for the primary election was addressed earlier in the year when Peters filed a protest with the Jackson County Board of Elections against her candidacy, alleging Mrs. Jones collected and circulated 11 of the signatures on her petition although Mr. Jones signed the petition as the circulator.
During an Elections Board public hearing on the protest which was conducted February 21, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jones contested Peters' claim, but explained that Mr. Jones had taken over circulating her petitions after Mrs. Jones suffered what Mr. Jones described as a "mini-stroke," which disabled and hospitalized her. Both stated they were unaware this was in violation of the law and that it was not done intentionally.
Consequently, the Elections Board invalidated the signatures on the petition sheet which included the signatures Mrs. Jones had collected. As a result, she lacked the necessary minimum number of signatures to qualify as a candidate in the primary election and her candidacy was rejected.
Subsequently, Mrs. Jones filed as an independent candidate for at-large council in November's general election, but Peters once again filed a protest to her candidacy on the grounds she had been elected as a Republican member of council and was continuing to serve. However, in a public hearing on that protest held on June 26, the Elections Board voted unanimously to reject the protest.
Attorney Ball, who also represented Mrs. Jones at this hearing, pointed out that there was nothing in state law which prohibited her from running as an independent as she was not permitted to run in the primary election. Ball also cited two Ohio Supreme Court cases which supported his position.
Prior to Tuesday's arraignment, Ball told The Telegram that he would vigorously defend his clients against the criminal charges and that they did not knowingly commit any crime.
"There is no intent here by either person to do anything wrong," Bal declared. "I also think it's suspicious these charges were filed one week after the Elections Board reviewed the case and said Loretta could run as an independent candidate."
Prosecuting Attorney Lovett was contacted for comment after the arraignment, but declined to make any, saying he does not comment on active cases.