COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio Supreme Court has ordered Stark County Sheriff George Maier removed from office because he doesn't have the required experience.
Maier was appointed early this year in Canton to fill a vacancy.
The court ruled his service from 2007 to 2011 with the Ohio Department of Public Safety only reflected part-time law-enforcement work.
Ohio law requires a sheriff to have four recent years of full-time law-enforcement work.
The court ordered the reinstatement of former sheriff Timothy Swanson.
Party leaders must appoint a sheriff to replace the elected Democrat who was unable to serve because of poor health.
Maier released the following statement:
Today I was notified that the Supreme Court has ruled to remove me from office as Sheriff and reinstate Sheriff Timothy Swanson.
I am saddened by the news of the Supreme Court. I have always and continue to believe that I meet the requirements to be Sheriff. I respect the ruling of the Court and will follow their decision.
It has always been and continues to be my goal to assist and support the Stark County Sheriff's Office as a loyal and professional public servant. It has been my honor to serve as the Stark County Sheriff.
Additional information from the Ohio Supreme Court:
In reviewing Maier's qualifications, the court explained that a candidate for county sheriff must meet the qualifications set out in either R.C. 311.01(B)(8)(a) or (B)(8)(b), plus the requirements in either R.C. 311.01(B)(9)(a) or (B)(9)(b).
Maier asserted that he is qualified under (B)(8)(a). Under that subsection, the court said he must have held or obtained a valid certificate of peace-officer training within the four years immediately prior to the qualifying date of February 6, 2013, and also have been employed within the four years immediately prior to that date as a highway patrol officer or "'as a full-time peace officer as defined in section 109.71 of the Revised Code performing duties related to the enforcement of statutes, ordinances, or codes.'"
From May 2007 to January 2011, Maier was assistant director and, briefly, interim director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. While employed as assistant director, he was appointed as an enforcement agent in the department's Ohio Investigative Unit from July 2008 to January 2011.
The court found that Maier was a "peace officer" while serving as an enforcement agent. It also determined that he clearly was a full-time state employee, as defined by the Ohio Administrative Code, while he worked at the public safety department. The court then turned to whether he served as a "full-time peace officer" in this role.
The court adopted a 2001 state attorney general's opinion stating that a person is employed as a full-time law enforcement officer when his work as a law enforcement officer takes all of his regular working hours.
While many of Maier's responsibilities qualified as law enforcement, his job also included supervising the department's human resources office, equal opportunity programs, and collective bargaining, as well as establishing the department's goals and crafting policies. His job description indicated that criminal investigation was 40 percent of his job.
Because his duties as a peace officer did not fill all of his regular working hours, the court concluded that Maier "was not a 'full-time peace officer' as required by R.C. 311.01(B)(8)(a)."
The court's majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and Justices Terrence O'Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French.
Justice Paul E. Pfeifer dissented in an opinion joined by Justice William M. O'Neill.
In his dissent, Justice Pfeifer cited a dissenting opinion he wrote in 2000 (State ex rel. Wolfe v. Delaware Cty. Bd. of Elections) in which he described R.C. 311.01 as "overly restrictive without a rational basis," concluding that it denies Ohio citizens a "meaningful choice" in sheriff elections. In that dissent, he noted that the Ohio attorney general is unqualified for county sheriff under the statute. He questioned the court's decision to now find that a former assistant director of public safety is not qualified as well.
Justice Pfeifer contended that an Ohio Investigative Unit enforcement agent; a full-time assistant director of public safety who worked with agents in the field and in surveillance, made arrests, and carried a badge and a weapon; and a person who directed other law enforcement state agencies meets the statutory requirements for the office.
"That the person also supervised the human-resources office, defined the department's goals, and formulated the department's policies is more an indication of competence than, as stated in the majority opinion, a reason for automatic disqualification," he wrote.