Judge Rules In Contentious Case In Ohio
Republican Official Wins Federal Court Case After Arrest During Meeting with Democratic Opponents
Americans often pride themselves on the principles of free speech and democracy, but in a small county in Ohio, those values were put to the test when a Republican county commissioner was arrested during a meeting for criticizing the performance of a Democratic sheriff. However, a major win was scored by the Republican commissioner in federal court, as Judge J. Philip Calabrese ruled in her favor on Tuesday, stating that “here in America, we do not arrest our political opponents.”
The controversy began when Niki Frenchko, the only Republican on the Trumbull County, Ohio Board of Commissioners, was elected in November 2020, defeating a 16-year incumbent Democrat and chairman of the local party. The Democrat Party responded by trying to have her election declared illegal, but she was declared the winner. County employees even attempted to have a “protective order” entered against her, causing friction between her and her fellow commissioners.
The two other commissioners, both Democrats, saw Frenchko as a nuisance and she saw her job as “needling” them. The tensions came to a head in July 2022, when Frenchko was arrested during a meeting for reading a letter from the mother of an inmate who claimed her son had been mistreated in the Trumbull County Jail. Sheriff Paul Monroe then demanded that Frenchko apologize for her statements, sparking a heated argument between Frenchko and her colleagues.
According to Judge Calabrese’s ruling, the other commissioners viewed Frenchko as “ignorant” and her actions as disruptive, leading to her being handcuffed, taken to jail, and charged with “disturbing a lawful meeting.” The charge was eventually dismissed, and Frenchko filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in April 2023 against the commissioners, the county, and the sheriff’s office for violating her First Amendment rights.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Federal judge rules firmly on the side of the Constitution after an elected official was arrested after criticizing the sheriff at a public meeting. pic.twitter.com/rFwnwWmNbz
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 21, 2024
In his 81-page ruling, Judge Calabrese didn’t hold back, stating that the actions taken against Frenchko were a violation of her First and Fourth Amendment rights. He also stripped the other two commissioners, Sheriff Monroe, and his two deputies of personal immunity, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
The case raises questions about the actions of those in positions of power and the importance of upholding free speech in politics. Frenchko’s attorney, Thomas Zena, said he hopes the ruling will serve as a reminder that elected officials cannot be arrested for criticizing their colleagues. Meanwhile, Frenchko expressed her gratitude for the ruling, stating that she will continue to use her position to hold her colleagues accountable.
The ruling also brings to light the ongoing disputes within the Trumbull County government, with at least seven lawsuits filed since 2010 alleging violations of inmates’ rights at the county jail. With the retirement of one of the Democratic commissioners in 2022, it remains to be seen how Frenchko’s relationship with her fellow commissioners will evolve and if any changes will be made within the county government.
As for Sheriff Monroe, this ruling may have lasting consequences for him and his office, as they are now facing a federal civil rights lawsuit. It serves as a cautionary tale for public officials, highlighting the importance of respecting free speech and the consequences that may arise if those rights are violated.
In the end, the ruling in favor of Frenchko serves as a strong reminder that, no matter the political divide, all elected officials must be held accountable for their actions and decisions. Hopefully, it will also serve as a reminder that in America, we do not arrest our political opponents, and that free speech is a fundamental right to be protected at all costs.