VAN WERT — A jury assembled to hear a case against Van Wert County Auditor Philip Baxter this week in Van Wert County Common Pleas Court listened to two days of testimony but never got the opportunity to decide the public official’s fate. The presiding judge took care of that matter by dismissing all charges against Baxter because of what he determined to be insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.
According to reporting in the Van Wert Independent, Judge Timothy Campbell — hearing the case by assignment — made the ruling after the state rested its case on Tuesday. The jury was subsequently dismissed.
Baxter was indicted in November on charges of breaking and entering, a fifth-degree felony; intimidation, a first-degree misdemeanor; and unauthorized use of property, computer, cable or telecommunication property, a fifth-degree felony. His indictment followed an investigation conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office.
Former Deputy Auditors Julienne Rolsten and Juliann Zinn made a deal with the state in exchange for their testimony against Baxter. Rolsten pleaded guilty to criminal trespass, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Rolsten agreed to resign from the County Auditor’s Office and never be reemployed by Van Wert County. Zinn’s charges were dismissed, but she agreed to resign from the County Auditor’s Office and never be reemployed by Van Wert County.
The charges against the auditor and his deputies revolved around an alleged after-hours break-in in that occurred at the Van Wert County Treasurer’s Office on May 30, 2019. Several witnesses testified a treasurer’s office employee came back to the office that night to complete a report that was needed after Baxter called him. BCI investigator Chris Hamberg testified that no documents were missing or destroyed from the treasurer’s office.
Baxter’s attorney said his client was simply trying to do his job and did not have criminal intent, according to the Van Wert Independent.
The two county offices — the auditor’s office headed by Baxter and the treasurer’s office headed by Treasurer Nathan Vanderbroek — had been embroiled in a public tiff since at least August 2019, at which point an independent auditor was hired by the Van Wert County commissioners to put the county’s books in order.