By Janie Southard
There will be no legal action taken against an Auglaize County judge and the county's former elections board director for improprieties at the office, according to a special prosecutor assigned to the case.
In a written statement to the local court filed last week, Special Prosecutor Robert R. Krapenc stated there was no evidence that either Common Pleas Court Judge Frederick Pepple or former elections board Director Jean Burklo were attempting to mislead voters or gain advantage over another candidate or to alter Pepple's re-election efforts with intent to deceive. Krapenc was appointed early last year to investigate allegations made by former elections board employee Ken Nuss.
"There's no question they broke the law. In talking with Mr. Krapenc (several weeks ago), he said there was nothing worth pursuing. He said Judge Pepple was running unopposed, and there was no criminal intent on anyone's part," Nuss told The Daily Standard earlier this week.
Nuss said the accusation in his complaint to the Secretary of State's office in October 2004 was not election fraud as was reported elsewhere.
"I accused them of breaking (Ohio Revised Code) Title 35, a fifth degree felony," Nuss explained. Title 35 refers to the many and various components of election procedure. Specifically, the accusation stems from the filing of Pepple's five-page, 113-signature petition for candidacy, which contained one notarized page. Pepple was up for re-election in November 2004.
According to Krapenc's decision, dated Dec. 22, he summarized that Pepple had discovered a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision whereby a certain candidate in Toledo was not placed on the ballot because his petition was rejected by the Lucas County board of elections. The reason for rejection was that the candidate's candidacy petition failed to contain at least one originally signed and notarized page of signatures.
Pepple called the secretary of state's office and the state supreme court for guidance on the notarization issue, but received no response.
He feared the four-part petition would be invalid without notarization; so he collected signatures on a fifth page and made sure it contained notarization.
Shortly thereafter, the Ohio Supreme Court discovered an amendment to its original interpretation of the notarization statue and decided no notarization was required after all.
Now, fearing the five-page petition might be invalid, Pepple took back the fifth page of his petition from the board of elections after a discussion with Burklo.
Burklo then instructed elections Clerk Josie Shaub to change the receipt book to show a four-page petition with 97 signatures was filed instead of a five-page petition, which Shaub did.
ORC section 3501.38 states "no signature may be removed after the petition is filed in any public office," and "no alterations, corrections, or additions may be made to a petition after it is filed in a public office."
Burklo's actions led to the Secretary of State's office ordering that she be removed from her position. The state also put the board of elections under administrative watch, which still remains today.
Nuss suggested the special prosecutor's findings are a mirror of society's mores.
"It's a sign of the times to let things go. Did O.J. Simpson murder Nicole? Did President Clinton lie about Monica? Some things are just another legal joke: Everyone knows there was a crime, but we'll look the other way," Nuss said.
Krapenc's official statement concludes: "It is my decision to not present evidence in this matter to a grand jury. I find that there is no criminal intent on the parts of Director Burklo or Judge Pepple, and therefore, the matter is closed."