GREENVILLE — Two candidates seeking to serve as Darke County Prosecutor threw barbs at each other as the Darke County League of Women Voters held “Candidates’ Night” at the American Legion Hall in Greenville Monday evening.
Incumbent Darke County Prosecutor R. Kelly Ormsby and his challenger, Greenville defense attorney Dave Rohrer, faced off in an often contentious debate moderated by Eileen Litchfield from the League.
Ormsby, a Republican, has served as the county’s prosecutor since 2009. Rohrer, running as an independent, is a former Darke County assistant prosecutor.
Each candidate was given two minutes to introduce himself, one minute to answer questions submitted by the audience, 30 seconds of rebuttal, and one minute for a closing statement.
Ormsby and Rohrer each frequently exceeded the time limits, and engaged in testy exchanges throughout.
When asked what they saw as the top priorities, each pointed to combating the heroin epidemic plaguing Darke County, as well as the entire state.
“Heroin has taken over this community,” said Rohrer, contending the prosecutor’s office has failed to work with law enforcement properly to punish drug pushers and has plea bargained too many cases.
Ormsby countered his opponent’s statements, saying, “We do not plea bargain more cases than anybody else does. The fact that he says 80 percent of felony cases are negotiated pleas, I’d say its probably higher than that nationally, only two percent of felonies normally go to trial.”
“The fact of the matter is, the legislature changed the law that became effective five years ago in 2011, to mandate that the judge send a lot of lower level felonies to local sanctions, not to prison. That is simply the law,” Ormsby added.
Ormsby, in rebuttal to Rohrer’s assertion that the prosecutor and the courts have not been tough enough on heroin dealers, pointed to his opponent’s years as a defense attorney often representing dealers.
“I’ve heard Mr. Rohrer argue for the last number of years for his clients to have probation. I think he’s been part of the problem rather than part of the solution,” said Ormsby.
“I’m a criminal defense attorney. He acts like that’s a crime or that’s a problem,” Rohrer responded. “No, that’s the Constitution of the United States, ladies and gentlemen. I represent mostly people that can’t afford attorneys and that’s what I’m supposed to do, to make the State of Ohio prove their case. And many times they are not doing that.”
Rohrer called for the hiring of a criminal investigator to work as a liaison between the prosecutor and law enforcement to create a “better working relationship” between the two.
“The prosecutor is the main law enforcement official in the county. All — sheriff, everything — is answerable to the prosecutor. That means they need to work together, and that is not happening at the present time very well,” Rohrer said.
Ormsby said a liaison is unnecessary and doesn’t see the need for “another layer of bureaucracy.”
“I’ve never had trouble answering the phone if one of them calls me and wants to talk about a problem,” he said. “We’ve got an excellent record in court, despite what Mr. Rohrer says, including trials that he’s had… he’s not been very successful against our office in those cases.”
Rohrer countered, saying, “The only prosecutor that I have a losing record to is [assistant prosecutor] Deb Quigley. She’s an excellent prosecutor. Mr. Ormsby and I are 3-3, that’s a 50 percent rate. [Assistant prosecutor] Jesse Green and I? I have won 10, at least, cases against him, he has won two against me. Phil Hoover, who was with the office, and was a disgrace in the office — when Mr. Ormsby was a right hand man — I was 7-0 against him. So I have the winning record. That’s why I’m the top criminal defense attorney in the county.”
“I don’t agree with his numbers,” said Ormsby. “I don’t know where he comes up with them.”
On the question of enforcing nuisance ordinances in the county, Ormsby and Rohrer both found some ground for agreement.
“It’s not as easy as waving a magic wand,” said Ormsby, pointing out that it takes time and coordinated efforts to shut down nuisance properties where criminal activity occurs.
Rohrer agreed, saying, “There has to be a pattern of activity that goes on in these places. There’s a house in Greenville that has had three heroin deaths in the past year. That house should be gone.”
When asked whether it was more important to get convictions or to assure that those truly guilty are convicted, Ormsby responded, saying, “It’s obviously the latter. The prosecutor’s duty is to convict the guilty but also to protect the innocent. I don’t think any good prosecutor would ever want to convict someone that they didn’t believe was guilty, or would they recommend one day more for them than they thought was required by the law.”
“The conviction rate is not the primary goal,” he added.
Rohrer answered the same question, saying, “I agree totally with Mr. Ormsby on that fact, but I’m curious that he said that,” noting a case Rohrer handled in which a woman was charged with a third-degree felony for marijuana trafficking, ostensibly for the purpose of making her testify against two co-defendants.
“She was charged with absolutely no evidence,” he said. “What they wanted was to make her squeal on her boyfriend. The problem was, she didn’t know about it.” Rohrer said the charges against the woman were dropped a week before the case went to trial.
In rebuttal, Ormsby said, “I agree — you don’t charge someone to try to get them to turn on someone else, but I also know that I rely on the judgment of the officers, the detectives, that are working on it, just as my assistants do.”
The two were asked if they would seek to limit arrests and convictions for marijuana use in order to preserve law enforcement resources for more important crimes.
“The answer to that is ‘Absolutely.’ We have been fed a lie,” said Rohrer, relating the struggles of a cancer-stricken friend who would benefit from the substance but is unable to acquire it due to the state’s recently enacted laws on medical marijuana usage.
“Marijuana is not even as dangerous as alcohol, marijuana treats things,” he explained. “This law they’ve got — we don’t have medical marijuana in Darke County. If you get caught with a joint now, it’s the same as a minor misdemeanor speeding ticket. But guess what? They’ll take your license away for six months.”
Regarding marijuana, Ormsby stated, “The answer is ‘Yes,’ and most of our law enforcement officers, including the chiefs and sheriff that I’ve talked to about it, agree with that. They don’t target marijuana anymore. There’s too much of a problem with heroin and methamphetamine and other much more serious drugs to target marijuana.”
In his closing statement, Rohrer told the audience he would like to serve as prosecutor for eight years, then retire and move south. He said, “I would humbly ask for your vote, but I’m not going to beg for it, because when this is over, I have a successful law practice to keep going with, and I will continue to do that. Personally, I believe I’m a leader, and I will bring leadership to the Darke County Prosecutor’s Office that is well needed and respected by law enforcement.”
Ormsby, in his closing, said Rohrer had become more “critical” in tone during the campaign, and said he, not Rohrer, had the support of local law enforcement.
“What I can say is, I have represented the people of Ohio for 35 years, ethically and well, 20 years here in Darke County, which is my home, where I plan to retire,” said Ormsby. “My record, I think, has been very good as far as ethics are concerned.”
Ormsby also mentioned Rohrer’s suspension by the Ohio Supreme Court in 2009 for “unethical behavior.” Rohrer was prohibited from practicing law for a six-month period, accused of violating a judge’s gag order and making misleading statements in a case involving a 10-year-old boy accused of setting fire to a Greenville home, who was briefly charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated arson.
“I don’t think that’s something that should exemplify the person you want as prosecuting attorney,” Ormsby added.
Following the event, as he was not allowed a rebuttal at the end of closing statements, Rohrer told The Daily Advocate that former Assistant Prosecutor Phil Hoover was the one responsible for filing ethics charges against him.
“Ormsby himself fired Phil Hoover,” Rohrer said. “Why would he fire him if he was ethical?”
“I never lost any business for it,” he added, noting that the disciplinary process cost him in excess of $100,000. “I would do what I did again in a heartbeat. They never should have charged [that boy].”
Wave Channel 5/Greenville Public Access TV will be airing the event from October 12 to 31 on the following days and times:
Mondays, 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.; Tuesdays, 11 a.m.; Wednesdays, 6 p.m.; Thursdays, 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.; Fridays, 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; and Sundays, 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4314. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com