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Kelly officially suspended, so now what?

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After nearly a month of delays, the special commission appointed to consider Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly’s suspension handed down its official decision in the Ohio Supreme Court on Friday.

The commission on March 3 issued a preliminary ruling that Kelly should be suspended from office. However, the determination was not made public at the time because the statute states “all meetings of the special commission shall be closed to the public” and “the records of the special commission shall not be made available to the public for inspection or copying until the special commission issues its written report.”

On March 12, Kelly filed a notice with the special commission contesting the preliminary determination of suspension and requesting a hearing before the commission. He then withdrew the appeal last week, saying he wanted to “spend the time necessary to prepare for my September (criminal) case.”

In a scramble for an interim replacement, the Athens County Commissioners called a special meeting March 27 to interview candidates to temporarily assume Kelly’s duties. Of the two men who expressed interest in the position — former sheriff’s deputy Rodney Smith and current sheriff’s Det. Jack Taylor — the commissioners’ decision, after about an hour-and-a-half-long executive session, rested on Smith.

After he was sworn in Thursday, Smith spoke to officials and reporters about how he wants an open-door policy in his office.

“My core belief wholeheartedly is that we do work for the citizens of Athens County and I do believe they deserve to be heard,” he said.

The Athens County Democratic Party still has a chance to make its own decision for Kelly’s position. They will likely be choosing from the same two candidates when they offer their pick on April 8.

The interim sheriff will fill out Kelly’s term or serve until he is acquitted or has his charges dismissed, in which case he would get his job back.

Kelly was indicted on Jan. 31 on 25 counts, including 23 felony counts. At his arraignment on Feb. 10, he pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

The charges he faces include 13 counts of theft in office, four counts of theft and one count each for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, money laundering, tampering with evidence, tampering with records, perjury and failure to keep a cashbook — all felonies. He was also indicted on two misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty and obstructing official business.

As the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation began to investigate at the Sheriff’s Office, they discovered even more money missing, dating back more than 10 years.

Kelly stands by his innocence, insisting this money theft must have happened before he took office.

Between now and the trial beginning in September, investigators will work to solidify their case against Kelly; in the meantime, Kelly will work to build up his defense.

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