DOVER – Former Mayor Richard Homrighausen was in the Guernsey County Courthouse Tuesday to hear his lawyer argue for an appeal of his November 2022 conviction for felony theft in office and five related offenses.
Three judges from the Fifth District Court of Appeals are ruling over the appeals case. Judge John Wise said they will issue a decision in 30 to 60 days.
Homrighausen wants his jury conviction reversed, his punishment – more than $17,000 in fines, costs, and restitution – changed, or a new trial. The conviction also bars Homrighausen from public service and the mayor’s office.
Homrighausen’s attorney Bill Livingston’s arguments Tuesday were similar to the ones brought up during Homrighausen’s jury trial in November of last year. Livingston said the former mayor didn’t act with specific intent to take money from the city when he kept wedding payments instead of depositing them into city accounts.
He claimed prosecutors from the State Auditor’s Office applied the wrong law to the case; the charges – theft in office and accepting improper compensation – are contradictory; the city’s rules on wedding payments are confusing; and the jury was deprived of hearing relevant evidence.
Special Prosecutor Samuel Kirk argued the mayor was stealing from the public by pocketing wedding payments while using the city’s employees, resources, and time to arrange and perform the ceremonies. In regards to the defense argument about contradictory charges, Kirk said separate actions led to the separate charges.
Judge Wise questioned Homrighausen’s attorney on his use of city employees and resources in performing weddings while keeping payments for himself.
Livingston said the prosecutors during the trial did not charge the mayor with stealing city resources, so defense lawyers specifically defended Homrighausen against accusations of stealing wedding fees.
Judge Andrew King questioned prosecutors on the theory that the newlyweds were the victims of “theft by deception.” He said if they paid for a service and received it, “Where is the theft in that theory?” Judges asked prosecutors how Homrighausen had authority over weddings if there was none explicitly given to him in city legislation. They asked how this was a case of theft from the city if the checks were made out to the mayor personally.
Kirk said Homrighausen’s actions and title as mayor gave him apparent authority. He said the former mayor used the “cover of office” to collect wedding “fees” on the city’s behalf, often having city employees solicit those payments and issuing receipts from the city.
The mayor’s office
Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Thomakos in January did not sentence Homrighausen to any prison time back in January, instead ordering him to pay more than $17,000 in fines, fees, and restitution. She also emphasized the conviction carries a ban from public office.
If the appeals court rules in his favor in 30 to 60 days, that could remove the disqualification with several weeks left in Homrighausen’s most recent term, which concludes at the end of the year.
City Law Director Doug O’Meara has said theoretically Homrighausen could become eligible for the mayor’s post again, but he didn’t expect a ruling before Dec. 31. O’Meara said he and prosecutors are confident the conviction will stand.
Current Mayor Shane Gunnoe is running as the Republican candidate on the November ballot against Democrat Colby Byrom. One of them will be the mayor come January no matter the outcome of Homrighausen’s appeals case.
Gunnoe says he and other officials are focused on moving the city forward and haven’t considered Homrighausen becoming eligible for the mayor’s office again.