- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—PORT CLINTON — After deliberating nearly 11 hours over two days, an Ottawa County jury on Monday found Ohio Rep. Steven Kraus guilty of felony theft, a crime that means he will be removed from office.

Kraus (R. Sandusky), 55, appeared calm as Judge Dale Crawford read the jury verdict. However, family and supporters appeared shocked and saddened, with some leaving the Common Pleas courtroom in tears.

The jury, which began deliberations last Friday, found him not guilty of breaking and entering, including the criminal trespassing specification contained in the charge.

The charges stems from an April, 2014, incident in which Kraus entered the Danbury Township home of Helen Stines and removed antiques.

Kraus, who took the witness stand during the trial, made a brief statement after a closed-door 30-minute meeting with his attorney, Troy Murphy.

“Of course, I am extremely disappointed with the verdict. My attorney and I are going to consider all our options. We are going to meet in the next couple days and contemplate our next move,” he said.

When asked about his plans for his House seat and whether he will step down, Kraus said: “That is one of the things we need to discuss.”

“We will consider all of our options,” Mr. Murphy added.

Tim Braun, a special prosecutor appointed to the case, said the outcome with the jury splitting the charges was satisfying.

“This was obviously a heartfelt case. The jury took a long time wrestling with some issues,” he said.

The theft conviction, which includes a specification that the victim was an elderly person, is a fifth-degree felony and carries a maximum one-year jail sentence. Judge Crawford, a visiting judge from Franklin County, scheduled sentencing for Aug. 21.

Kraus, a real estate agent and auctioneer, told the jury that Ms. Stine’s real estate agent, Jenine Porter, authorized him to enter the house, and he removed items for safekeeping but returned them soon after.

However, Ms. Porter testified she didn’t give Kraus permission to enter the house to take items.

“It comes down to credibility of the witnesses,” Mr. Braun said. “It also comes down to in what we believe is a major contradiction in Mr. Kraus’ testimony.”

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville) said he was saddened by the verdict, but the felony conviction meant that the seat representing the 89th House District, which encompasses Ottawa and Erie counties, was immediately rendered vacant.

“Under Ohio law, a public official against whom a guilty verdict is found on a felony criminal charge is automatically removed from office by operation of the law,” Mr. Rosenberger said.

“After consulting with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee and the Ohio Attorney General’s office, as well as our own legal counsel, the law will take effect immediately to vacate the office.”

The Ohio Constitution gave the General Assembly the authority to judge the eligibility of its members. As a result, the General Assembly passed a law holding that a person who pleads guilty to or is convicted of a felony is “incompetent” to hold public office.

A 1989 ruling out of the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus, involving a Cuyahoga County elections board member, determined that removal does not have to await the outcome of appeals.

Kraus has been in the Ohio House for nearly seven months. Last November, he upset former Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), the state’s Democratic Party chairman at the time, for the right to represent the Democratic-leaning 89th District.

The remaining 64 members of the House Republican Caucus will eventually choose Kraus’ replacement, but no timeline has been established for filling the seat. The House is on summer recess and is not scheduled to return until late September.

Traditionally, a special committee made up of GOP House members interviews candidates for the vacancy and makes recommendations to the full caucus. The caucus vote would take place on the House floor.

The person chosen to replace Kraus will serve the remainder of the term, which expires at the end of 2016.

Kraus is just the latest of several lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, who’ve been pushed from office while facing or being convicted of felony charges.

In November, then-Rep. Peter Beck (R., Mason) resigned at the request of then Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina). He’d resisted demands for his resignation for months while multiple felony counts connected with an investment scam were pending

His days in the House were numbered anyhow after he was defeated in the 2014 Republican primary election. Beck was ultimately convicted last month of 13 theft, securities fraud, and related charges.

Former Rep. Clayton Luckie (D., Dayton) pleaded guilty to theft and money-laundering charges in 2013. He dropped his re-election bid in 2012 but completed his term before taking a plea deal.

Then Rep. W. Carlton Weddington (D., Columbus) pleaded guilty to bribery, and various elections and ethics charges. He resigned in 2012 after his indictment.

There have also been cases where speakers have asked for voluntary resignations of lawmakers who faced or were convicted of misdemeanor charges, with varying success. Some lawmakers have continued to serve after misdemeanor convictions.

Contact Mark Reiter at: [email protected] or 419-724-6199.

Contact Jim Provance at: [email protected] or 614-221-0496.

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(c)2015 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Visit The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) at www.toledoblade.com

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