Councilmen barred from meetings

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Two Bridgeport village councilmen will not be allowed to attend council meetings until at least Oct. 2, and the village solicitor has stepped down from the case.

Those rulings came down Wednesday morning when Belmont County Probate Court Judge J. Mark Costine continued a case against councilmen Ben Lenz and Dave Smith, who are accused of double-dipping. The pair are also employed through the village as EMTs.

In attendance at Wednesday’s brief meeting, which lasted no longer than 15 minutes, were attorneys Michael Shaheen and Alaire D. Mancz, representing the plaintiffs; Bridgeport Village Solicitor Mark A. Thomas; and four of the plaintiffs.

Prior to the court proceeding, an informal status conference was held in Judge Costine’s chambers. Shaheen, Mancz and Thomas were in attendance, while attorney Greg Beck, representing the defendants, joined via conference call.

According to the judgment entry, certain undisclosed matters were discussed by those present prior to going on record.

On the record, Judge Costine discussed issues he had with the attorneys, and said that no attorney had requested him to recuse himself from the matter.

T homas then argued that he has a conflict of interest in this matter in that he is the solicitor of the Village of Bridgeport and has discussed the matters set forth in the complaint with council members, including the two defendants prior to the filing of this action, the judgement entry said. He also disclosed that after the filing of this action, he had brief discussions with both defendants.

Shaheen, on behalf of the plaintiffs, also represented to the Court that the plaintiff’s believe Thomas has a conflict of interest in this matter and ask him to withdraw from representation of the plaintiffs in this matter as required by Ohio Revised Code.

T he Court granted Thomas’s motion to withdraw from the case.