Former commissioner reports to jail

Thomas begins 30-day sentence for contempt

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Former Belmont County commissioner Mark Thomas reported to the Belmont County Jail on Friday to serve his 30-day sentence for contempt of court.

Thomas had no comment as he walked into the jail. Chief Deputy James Zusack said the sheriff’s office and jail administrator likewise had no comment.

Thomas served as a commissioner during times when issues of jail overcrowding and expenses were debated. He is also a former lawyer. When asked if any additional protection would be necessary for Thomas inside the jail, Zusack said Thomas would be evaluated like any other inmate.

The 30-day sentence stems from legal proceedings in Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra’s court. Vavra found that Thomas failed to provide records to a plaintiff’s attorney after being ordered to do so. Vavra ordered Thomas to jail on Dec. 12, but in accordance with Ohio law Thomas was given 30 days to purge the contempt.

As a result, Vavra said Thomas had until Jan. 4 to provide the documents — or he would be required to report to jail Jan. 11.

On Wednesday, Thomas said he had provided all records he had or could find that were related to the client in question, and he indicated he had believed himself to be in compliance with the judge’s order. He said he intended to confer with Andrew Walther, the plaintiff’s counsel. Vavra said Walther reported that Thomas had turned over material, but not the expected financial records.

When contacted Friday, Walther declined to comment on how the case might go after Thomas’ sentence was complete, but he said he hoped to see the matter resolved.

“This is an unfortunate event,” Walther said. “We’re hopeful to have all records produced, and we’re hopeful to receive all records. That’s all we ask for.”

The case is related to Thomas’ private practice as a lawyer, not his role as a commissioner. Thomas previously had served as power of attorney for a trustee client, Alma Lukas.

According to court records, Vavra had ordered Thomas in November to supply his files on Lukas by Jan. 4. Lukas’ agent, Kathy Amos, had filed a civil case against Thomas earlier in 2018. Thomas had power of attorney for Lukas several years ago; Amos was later invested with Lukas’ power of attorney and said Thomas failed to turn over documents, prompting her to sue for an injunction ordering that Thomas provide those records.

Vavra said Thomas failed to appear for a trial held in July, resulting in Thomas being ordered to turn over all records and paperwork related to Lukas.

Thomas initially was given until July 31 to turn over all of his documents regarding that client to Walther, but he did not do so. Thomas and the plaintiff then agreed that Thomas would have until the end of August to do so. He did not turn over the records and a motion of contempt was filed. The deadline was extended to Nov. 30, then Dec. 10.

Thomas, a Democrat, was defeated in his re-election bid as commissioner during the Nov. 6 election by Republican Jerry Echemann. His law license was suspended for five years in Ohio in May. In August 2017, he consented to voluntary disbarment in West Virginia as he faced charges in Ohio County for allegedly embezzling $36,000 from a client. He was acquitted of those charges April 11.

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