ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The Ohio Supreme Court will appoint a special prosecutor and a visiting judge for an assault case involving Belmont County Commissioner Matthew D. Coffland.
Belmont County Western Division Court Judge Harry White recused himself from the Coffland case Monday, as did Northern Division Court Judge Frank Fregiato and Eastern Division Court Judge John Vavra, a Western Division Court employee confirmed. A letter has been sent to the Ohio Supreme Court informing the court a special prosecutor and visiting judge must be appointed, she added.
Coffland, 54, faces charges of assault on a liquor control officer and disorderly conduct after allegedly throwing a beer bottle at an officer while at Jamboree In The Hills on Friday night. Ohio Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Julie Hinds said Sunday that, according to a report from her agency, Coffland allegedly "threw a bottle at the (liquor control) agent, striking him with it." Hinds noted the agent did not receive medical attention because of the incident.
Coffland on Saturday said liquor control agents came and took him from his family's tarp on the grounds at JITH on Friday and led him through the crowd to the backstage area, where he was handcuffed and turned over to the Belmont County Sheriff's Department for processing.
His bail, which reportedly exceeded $5,000, was posted, and Coffland was released by 2 a.m. Saturday.
The Ohio Liquor Control Board previously had filed legal action against Coffland and his son, Matthew B. Coffland, 29, resulting from incidents at Coffland's Tiger Pub bar in Shadyside in April.
Coffland is set to appear in Eastern Division Court in Bellaire on the charges related to his bar at 10 a.m. July 31. Monroe County Judge James Peters will hear the case, with Thomas Hampton as the special prosecutor.
It is expected Peters also will be named to hear the most recent assault and disorderly conduct charges against Coffland, which are filed with Western Division Court in St. Clairsville. Hampton said he had not been informed late Monday afternoon whether he will be appointed prosecutor in that case, but he noted he has been named prosecutor in past cases involving Coffland and his family.
Hampton said the charges stemming from JITH could be heard during the July 31 court date, but he noted the separate cases involving Coffland are presently before two different courts.
Coffland said last week that agents entered his Tiger Pub just before 2 a.m. April 1. He said he approached them and learned they were from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.
He then announced to patrons who were still in the bar that agents were on the premises, and that he was closing early. The agents responded to Coffland's action by charging both him and his son with the following misdemeanors:
- Knowingly or recklessly hindering or obstructing an agent or employee of the Ohio Division of Liquor Control;
- Knowingly - with purpose to hinder the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for a crime - warn the other person of impending discovery or apprehension; and
- Knowingly and without privilege - with the purpose to prevent, obstruct or delay the performance by a public official of an authorized act - perform an act that hampered or impeded a public official in the performance of the public official's duties.
Coffland, a Democrat, is up for re-election in November and faces a challenge from two Independent candidates - Jerry Echemann and Doug Longenette. There is no Republican candidate in the race.
Coffland said Saturday that he felt the timing of these incidents was rather suspicious, since the election is approaching, but he stopped short of saying his opponents had anything to do with either incident.
Longenette, however, wanted to clarify that he had no connection to any of the charges against Coffland and issued a statement: "The great people of Belmont County will have the final say and can determine who they feel is most qualified to lead Belmont County for the next four years. Our campaign is focused solely on educating Belmont County voters that I am the most qualified for the job. One of my goals is to restore professionalism, respect, confidence and good business sense in the position of county commissioner. The seat is the peoples' seat, and I intend to be responsive and respectful of it."
Echemann also addressed the situation with a statement: "The charges against Matt Coffland will have to work their way through our legal system," Echemann said. "I intend to stay focused on my own message of positive growth for Belmont County and carry it to as many people as possible.
"I think a candidate needs to be on guard against making promises," he continued. "But one thing I can promise is to always serve the people of Belmont County with integrity. After all, a commissioner is 'the face' of the county."