The lawyer representing Sarah Chambers in the defamation lawsuit filed by Ohio Republican gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone against Chambers after his former co-campaign manager gave the Ohio Elections Commission a 51-page compendium of campaign finance violations she witnessed told The Ohio Star Chambers intends to defend herself with the facts.
“She obviously had concerns of about how he was handling his campaign finance, which we’ve all learned a lot more since that initial filing because there have been others that have filed,” said Laura Mills, who joined Chambers’ legal team as a litigator after the defamation suit was filed.
“I mean, Sarah would tell you, this is the first time she ever was that politically involved, so she relied on the campaign to obviously tell her what the rules are, thinking that they would know best,” she said.
“She told them they should get an accountant or get some legal advice or make sure that they were abiding by the rules, and they failed to do so,” Mills said.
She said that lawyers from both sides are slated to meet May 6 for a status conference, and there has been no court date.
“What we’re looking at is the campaign finance management that he did because he sued Sarah for defamation, and a defense to defamation is truth, and she strongly believes that he has mismanaged his campaign finance,” she said. “I think this trust issue just speaks to one element of that.”
Mills said to defend Chambers, she has to prove that Blystone was, in fact, derelict in how he managed his campaign, which means they will have to dig into how the campaign is run and the integrity of his official campaign filings.
“Joe Blystone filed this action against Sarah Chambers, right?” she asked.
“He’s the one who initiated it, filed this lawsuit against her, primarily because she filed with the Ohio election a complaint based on how he was managing his campaign finance,” she said.
“As soon as she filed that complaint, then he filed the civil action against her in Delaware County, which is where we’re at,” she said.
Mills said Blystone’s handling of contributions is already a matter of record.
“I have no explanation for what he’s done or what the outcome will be, but clearly, you have to report cash contributions,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of cash donations. That’s one element that has been out there.”
In addition to the handling of contributions, Blystone may have filed a false ethics report, she said.
Mills: Blystone did not report that he is the trustee of his late wife’s trust
“Now, we have this issue of the Ohio Ethics Commission in which he filed a financial disclosure, and in that financial disclosure, it’s two parts,” the attorney said.
First, Blystone did not list that report that he had any fiduciary responsibilities, she said.
Second, Blystone, who controls a farm and restaurant, that did not have any investments of more than $1,000, she said.
“When we saw that, we certainly understand that the property that he runs a number of businesses on is in a trust, and so, when you take a look at the deed for his particular property, it references a trust, and it also references a memorandum of trust,” she said.
“I don’t think you have to go into many details, but he failed to list it at all, and then certainly one would think that he would potentially have an investment over a $1,000 somewhere, and that was not listed either,” the lawyer said.
The trust was created in February 2008 by his late wife to hold the farm and other properties she owned. Blystone was listed as the successor trustee of the trust.
“The memorandum of the trust that is filed with the Franklin County Recorder’s office, it tells us where the trust is located, and it indicates that Joseph Blystone is a trustee, which obviously would be a fiduciary responsibility and fiduciary relationship that he has,” she said.
Read the request for the Blystone trust document here.
“We believe that it’s relevant in the case. It’s one more instance of how he follows whatever rules he feels like following and not necessarily the ones that every other candidate has to follow,” Mills said.
The requirement is straightforward, she said. “You fill out a financial disclosure form, and you have to just list the fiduciary relationship.”
If Blystone is the trustee for his late wife’s trust or any other trust, it conflicts with his ethics filing, where he listed no fiduciary responsibilities.
Mills said she reached out to the law firm that executed the trust on behalf of Blystone and his late wife, but they would not produce the actual trust documents.
“We subpoenaed that particular trust primarily to demonstrate and prove that he really was a successor trustee, again, a failure on his responsibilities under the campaign finance laws,” she said.
“We were met with an objection,” she said.
“The objection was attorney-client privilege,” she said. “Meaning that Mr. Blystone must still be a client of that particular law firm and that they’re failing to provide the trust, which would lead me to believe that he truly is the trustee of the trust and that he did not feel the need to comply with what he had to provide to the Ohio Ethics Commission.”
Mills: Chambers has been on a journey since joining the Blystone campaign
Mills said her client became a volunteer and then a leader for the Blystone campaign because she believed in his agenda, so it has been difficult for her to become a whistleblower about his handling of his campaign.
“She’s been on quite a journey, and this is what I think is unfortunate,” she said.
“I have said this many times, but for a lot of the individuals that provided cash and gave the cash contributions, it’s because a lot of people had not necessarily gotten involved in a campaign before or given to a campaign.”
Mills said Blystone attracted people to his campaign who were not experienced in running campaigns.
“They don’t know the rules. I mean, if you regularly give, you understand there’s forms you fill out. There’s some documentation, and you have to follow certain rules,” she said.
“I think a lot of the individuals that were, for whatever reason, mesmerized by this movement, they were new to getting behind a candidate,” she said.
“Then, after spending countless hours trying to support Mr. Blystone, the campaign, getting people involved – her, friends, family – seeing that things were not being done properly,” Mills said.
“She felt she had a duty to bring that forward, so she does the right thing, and she comes forward, and she files her complaint and says: ‘Wait a minute. There needs to be accountability. You’re running for a high office of the state, basically the CEO of the state, and you need to follow campaign finance rules like everybody else.’”
Mills said her client was always trying to do what was right.
“She does the right thing, again, files with the Ohio Elections Commission, and then she’s met with a lawsuit in which she has to defend herself – so, yes, a terrible journey for her.”
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Neil W. McCabe is the national political editor of The Star News Network based in Washington. He is an Army Reserve public affairs NCO and an Iraq War veteran. Send him news tips: [email protected] Follow him on TruthSocial & GETTR: @ReporterMcCabe.
Photo “Joe Blystone” by Joe Blystone.