July 25, 2013
OTTAWA — Widening of Road 5 north of U.S. 224 was completed last year. Still, a lawsuit related to it is still ongoing in Putnam County Common Pleas Court, resulting in nearly $300,000 in legal fees for Putnam County.
“This money comes out of the general fund,” explained Putnam County Auditor Robert Benroth.
The lawsuit, brought by Thomas Patrick and several other landowners, claims Sunshine Law violations and not using proper procedure regarding the original right-of-way by the Putnam County commissioners in approving the widening of the road.
In March 2012, a request was filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent construction's beginning. That request was overruled in April 2012, and construction proceeded. The road widening from Road E to US 224 was completed last November.
Since then the lawsuit has continued in Putnam County Common Pleas Court.
Putnam County Engineer Troy Recker said crews still have 10 parcels north of U.S. 224 without final agreements on land they are appropriating for the widening.
Benroth said the money for this land is in escrow with the clerk of courts and can be paid out at any time. A landowner has the right to go to court if he feels he's not compensated enough for land. In these cases, construction is not delayed while the courts work out the compensation.
The county has been represented by Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers and Frost Brown, Todd LLC out of Columbus as its representatives in the lawsuit.
In 2012, Putnam County paid Brown $217,847 for legal expenses for the lawsuit. As of Wednesday, the county paid an additional $67,402 in legal fees in 2013.
“We will probably have more incoming bills,” Benroth said. He said this amount does not include the additional time county officials including the prosecutor put in to defend this case.
Putnam County Commissioner John Love said he would wait until there had been a ruling on the case before making a statement.
In the mean time, work continues on the south end of Road 5, from U.S. 224 to state Route 12.
Recker said all but four of the 60 parcels in this section have settled in the appropriation agreements. Recker said the widening project is running on schedule.
“We all owe the Patrick family a debt of gratitude for holding our commissioners accountable for their actions,” said Marilyn Horstman, of Ottawa, when the lawsuit was initiated. Horstman is one of the landowners north of U.S. 224 who protested the widening. “We owe the Patricks for using their personal resources in fighting to ensure that state law is followed in regard to informing the public and in seizing property by eminent domain.”
Patrick could not be reached for comment.