Thomas out of jail
Ordered to provide all documents to plaintiff
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Mark Thomas was released from the Belmont County Jail on Saturday — one day sooner than originally scheduled by the jail — after serving a sentence for contempt of court.
Thomas, a former lawyer who left office as a Belmont County commissioner at the end of 2018, had been sentenced to 30 days in the county jail. Common Pleas Judge John Vavra imposed the term after Thomas failed to comply with a court order to turn over documents from his private law practice. The case has no connection to Thomas’ role as an elected official; instead, it is related to him serving as power of attorney for a client of his legal practice.
Thomas had appeared for a hearing Friday before Vavra, who granted him additional time to search for the records. He is scheduled to come before the judge again on March 15 to show compliance.
A jail spokesperson and the jail website said early last week that Thomas was scheduled to be released at 9 a.m. today. On Friday, though, Vavra mentioned that Thomas would be released on Saturday.
Asked Friday afternoon to clarify the discrepancy between Thomas’ listed release date and what he had said at the hearing, Vavra said he had been counting from the day Thomas’ sentence commenced but speculated that jail officials could have begun the count the day afterward. The Times Leader contacted the jail Friday evening and was told Thomas would be released today. Staff members on duty at the jail Saturday morning, though, said Thomas had been released at 8 a.m. that day.
Sheriff David Lucas said late Saturday that a court order was received late Friday, directing the jail to release Thomas on Saturday morning.
“This happened yesterday afternoon,” Lucas said Saturday. “It advised us to release him this morning. When the court orders it, we follow their order. It happened right before I left to come home. The court puts them there, and the court releases them.”
Thomas could not be reached for comment following his release on Saturday.
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 related to Lukas’ affairs. Amos then sued for an injunction ordering that Thomas provide those records.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Andrew Walther, said while Thomas did produce some documents prior to being found in contempt of court, they amounted to only a small percentage of what was expected. On Friday, Walther said Thomas had provided more records.
Thomas’ attorney, Don Tennant, said Thomas needs additional time since he will have to search through voluminous files to find the desired records. Thomas previously had his law license suspended and no longer practices law.
Thomas, a Democrat, was defeated on Nov. 6 in his re-election bid for his commission seat. Republican Jerry Echemann has since replaced him on the board.