Thomas faces jail for contempt

THOMAS

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Mark Thomas, a former Belmont County commissioner and a former lawyer, is facing 30 days in jail beginning Friday for contempt of court after he failed to provide records to a plaintiff’s attorney as ordered by Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra.

Thomas said Wednesday, though, that he has provided all the records he has or can find that are related to that client.

Vavra issued the order Dec. 12 after legal proceedings in a case related to Thomas’ private practice as an attorney, not his role as a commissioner. Thomas previously had served as power of attorney for a trustee client.

According to court records, Vavra had ordered Thomas in November to supply files for a trustee client named Alma Lukas by Jan. 4. Lukas’ agent, Kathy Amos, had filed a civil case against Thomas earlier in 2018. According to the court, 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 Amos to sue for an injunction ordering that Thomas provide those records.

Vavra said Thomas did not appear during a trial held in July that resulted in Thomas being ordered to turn over all records and paperwork related to Lukas. The reason for the decision to change power of attorney was not disclosed.

Thomas initially was given until July 31 to turn over all of his documents regarding that client to the plaintiff’s attorney, Andrew 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.

Vavra said he found Thomas in contempt when Thomas did not appear for a Dec. 10 hearing. Under Ohio law, Thomas was given 30 days to purge himself of the contempt.

On Wednesday, Thomas said he had learned that day that he was not considered to be in compliance with the court’s order, but he added that he intends to resolve the matter prior to Friday.

“While I have not seen the Judge’s most recent order, I want to make it clear that I have not been afforded the opportunity to speak to the Judge this week. I was told by opposing legal counsel that he did speak to the Judge but I was not privy to that call nor did I know it was happening until after the fact,” Thomas said in an email.

“I want to make it very clear that I have not only complied with the court order, I have advised counsel that I have given him all the files that I have or can find as of this date,” Thomas continued. “Regardless, it is my intent to continue to work with him, as needed, as I have complete respect for the court and legal counsel.”

When asked about the issue in person, Thomas said he continuing to look into the matter.

“They’re asking for some stuff that I don’t know that I have. I’ve turned in everything that I have,” he said. “There’s always two sides to every story.”

When approached at the courthouse on Wednesday, Vavra said he had spoken with the plaintiff’s counsel on Tuesday.

“I directed him to contact me to see if there was compliance. He said there was not compliance. He specifically said he met with Mr. Thomas. Although the paperwork was due Friday (Jan. 4), he met with Mr. Thomas Saturday, he was given a banker’s box full of materials, but he wasn’t able to look at them over the weekend,” Vavra said.

“When (Walther) called me on Tuesday, he said he did not receive all of the records, files, no bank statements, no deposit slips, nothing of a financial nature. No ledger. No nothing,” the judge continued. “He estimated he probably received 5 percent of what he would have expected to receive. He said he had been in continuing talks with Mr. Thomas, who was continuing to promise to give him more materials, but as of that moment (Tuesday) he hadn’t done so.”

Vavra added that Thomas is ordered to report to the Belmont County Jail at 9 a.m. Friday.

“Based upon the above,” documents related to the case state, “this Court finds that Defendant has failed to satisfy the conditions necessary to purge himself of his contempt. Therefore, he is to report to the Belmont County Jail on Friday, January 11, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. to begin serving the thirty (30) day jail sentence previously imposed.

“The Court directs the Office of the Belmont County Sheriff to personally serve a copy of this Entry upon Defendant Mark Thomas, immediately.”

Thomas on Wednesday reiterated that the case is related to his private law practice, not his former role as a public servant.

“This is a private matter. I realize it’s public in the sense that it’s a court proceeding,” Thomas said. “I’m confident that it’ll be resolved. I’m certainly here to comply with anything and everything. … If there’s additional information, I need to work that out between them and me.”

“If the plaintiff’s attorney said, ‘OK, he finally gave us everything,’ I might consider (finding Thomas in compliance), but that’s not what we have heard so far,” Vavra said. “Mr. Thomas has made no contact. No attorneys on his behalf have contacted the court.”

Thomas, a Democrat, was defeated in his bid for re-election as a county commissioner in November 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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