The criminal trial for Heather H. Ernst, the former deputy director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, has been pushed back once again.
The criminal trial in the courtroom of Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Cain had been scheduled to begin Sept. 26 but was continued to Oct. 30. The trial originally was set for June 6 but was continued to July 16 and again to Sept. 26.
Ernst, 47, is accused of stealing more than $500,000 from the city's two pool facilities from May 2013 to fall 2017.
She was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury in March for one count of theft, a third-degree felony; one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony; two counts of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony; and four counts of filing incomplete, false and fraudulent tax records, a fifth-degree felony.
Meanwhile, a civil trial in the common-pleas courtroom of Judge Jenifer French is scheduled for April.
Hilliard leaders filed a civil lawsuit against Ernst on March 15, and that complaint was amended in September, according to common-pleas court records, to include her husband, Moses A. Ernst, as a co-defendant. Moses Ernst was not listed as such in the criminal trial as of Oct. 2.
The civil complaint said that during the course of Heather Ernst's employment with the city, the "defendants retained at least $541,000, depositing at least $270,000 into accounts owned or controlled by the defendants." Some of the deposits were made into a checking account owned by Moses Ernst, according to the complaint.
The complaint also calls to attention that the defendants "sold and transferred title to certain parcels of real property" on dates that were "notably subsequent to the initiation of this litigation with actual intent to avoid replaying the City of Hilliard."
According to the Franklin County Auditor's Office, Heather and Moses Ernst sold a residence at 4639 Schirtzinger Road for $375,000; the property was transferred July 12.
Records also show that Phyllis Ernst, with the late Wilbur Ernst also listed, sold a residence at 4643 Schirtzinger Road for $475,000; the property was transferred July 12.
Phyllis Ernst, who is a former director of the Hilliard Parks and Recreation Department, is the mother-in-law of Heather Ernst.
Advanced Drainage Systems, 4640 Trueman Blvd., purchased both properties, according to records.
Records also show a third property, a three-unit condominium at 4809 Farber Row in the Columbus portion of the Hilliard City Schools district, was transferred July 5 from Heather and Moses Ernst to Perfection Properties of Ohio for $210,000.
Hilliard is being represented by two firms, PetersonConners and Lane Alton, in its civil lawsuit against Heather and Moses Ernst. Hilliard City Council on Sept. 10 appropriated $315,000 or the firms' representation.
The first legal counsel of record no longer is representing the city.
According to common-pleas court records, a motion was granted Aug. 23 to accept the withdrawal of Taft Stettinius & Hollister as the city's counsel in the civil complaint.
Tracy Bradford, Hilliard's law director, would not comment on the circumstances involving the change in legal representation but confirmed the fees for the first firm did not exceed the $50,000, the spending limit for which council authorization would be required.
Greg Peterson of PetersonConners also would not comment on the change in legal counsel but said his firm "has the intention of identifying all the (defendants') assets."
When asked why the city is spending money in a civil lawsuit to recover money that could be awarded in a criminal finding, Peterson replied it is because the burdens of proof differ.
In a criminal case, the charges must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," whereas in a civil case, the requirement is "a preponderance of the evidence," Peterson said.
Restitution orders stemming from civil complaints generally exceed those of criminal cases, he said.
It is also typical, Peterson said, for the pace of civil actions to slow down when there is a concurrent and related criminal case.
David Goldstein, an attorney representing Heather Ernst, confirmed that Moses Ernst is a co-defendant but that he does not represent him.
Goldstein said "it is my understanding" a separate attorney is being identified for Moses Ernst.
As of Oct. 2, ThisWeek was unable to identify who that attorney would be or if the attorney had been selected. ThisWeek also was unable to find a contact number for Moses Ernst, and attempts to reach him through social media were unsuccessful.
More details of the city's civil litigation might not be forthcoming.
According to a Sept. 26 entry, the city filed a motion "to expand the scope of the existing prejudgment attachment order under seal" because the "defendants have already transferred certain assets to third parties in an effort to avoid creditors and are likely to abscond from the jurisdiction of this Court."
With the exception of a document revealing a list of the latest subpoenas the city has served, access is denied to court entries after Sept. 26 on the court's public website.
Meanwhile, Goldstein said, he is continuing to identify witnesses who include current and past employees of the parks and recreation department.
"We dispute the allegations (against Ernst). ... Our position is a lot of people had access to the money and the safe other than Ernst," Goldstein said. "The city is claiming that $541,000 is gone, but we haven't seen proof of that yet."