Lawyers representing four Ohio University students charged in connection with speaking out at a student senate meeting during fall semester greeted the news that the charges were dismissed with relief.
Athens County Municipal Court confirmed that the Sept. 10 charges were dropped against Rebecca Sebo of Pepper Pike, Max Peltz of Orange, Jonah Yulish of Beachwood and Gabriel Sirkin of White Plains, N.Y., were dismissed March 4.
They were scheduled to appear in Athens Municipal Court March 9 for a pretrial hearing, followed by a jury trial that was set to begin March 10. Attorneys representing the four students filed motions to dismiss the case for lack of speedy trial March 3.
Kenneth Bossin, the attorney representing Sebo, said he was “thrilled to death” that the charges had been dismissed, and that he doesn’t believe Sebo committed an illegal act. Bossin blamed the university and the OU police department as the reasons the case took six months to be resolved.
Larry Zukerman, the attorney representing Peltz, said Judge William Grim granted the motions to dismiss the charges against all four students.
“I think it’s prophetic that Judge Grim dismissed the charges against our clients erev Purim. In light of what we perceived as anti-Semitic charges, Judge Grim determined that justice should prevail and they should be freed,” Zukerman said.
According to the Athens court’s decision and journal entry, the defendants' motions to dismiss were granted and the defendants were discharged March 4.
“I’m just happy that the whole process is over with,” Peltz said. “And the best part about the dismissal was it occurring on Purim – a holiday where we celebrate the Jews once again escaping execution.”
The four students had originally been charged with disturbing a lawful meeting after being arrested by OU police Sept. 10 when they refused to stop speaking during a student senate meeting. The students attended the meeting to call for the resignation of student senate president Megan Marzec, who had called on the university to divest from Israel earlier that month.
During pretrial hearings, the charges against the four students were reduced to disorderly conduct. All four agreed to the revised charges, but retained their not-guilty pleas.
However, on Feb. 12 the city prosecutor’s office in Athens dismissed the charges for disorderly conduct and the students were re-charged with disturbing a lawful meeting, a fourth-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, the time for speedy trial is within 45 days after the person’s arrest or the service of summons, if the offense charged is a misdemeanor of the third of fourth degree, or other misdemeanor for which the maximum penalty is imprisonment for not more than 60 days. The code provides for several periods of allowable extensions.
“This whole case was driven by the university and the university police department,” said Bossin, Sebo’s attorney. “I think they were wrong in pursuing it the way they did and in the way they handled the whole case. It was driven by their desires, not by the City of Athens or the prosecutor’s office.
“I think they handled it poorly. If the university had let the prosecutor’s office and defense lawyers handle the case I think it would’ve been handled a long time ago.”
Lt. Tim Ryan, the public information officer for the Ohio University Police Department, said the university’s administration does not involve itself in the criminal justice process.
“Consistent with how protest-related arrests have historically been handled by the city prosecutor’s office, the defendants were offered the choice to plead guilty to the amended minor misdemeanor or go to trial on the original fourth degree misdemeanor,” Ryan explained. “The defendants ultimately chose not to accept the plea agreement, so the amended charge was dismissed and the original charge was refiled.
“Ultimately, the defendants’ charges were dismissed on procedural grounds related to prosecution timelines. The judge’s decision makes no comment about the legitimacy of the original charges.”
Bethany Venable, the senior director of communication services at OU, said the university is not commenting on the cases being dismissed.
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw called the four students “resilient” and said they were courageous for standing up for their beliefs.
“We’re incredibly proud of the four students who stood up at the student senate meeting and advocated for Israel in the way that they did,” said Leshaw, who serves as executive director of Hillel at Ohio University. “They were courageous, thoughtful, inspired many people and spoke on behalf of a large Jewish student population at Ohio University.
“Many people reached out to us from all over the country, including the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, offering us support, comfort and love during this difficult time. We’re so grateful for all of the communication and connection that we received.”
Athens City Prosecutor Tracy Meek said all four cases had been dismissed, but the court dockets for three of the students were not immediately updated as government offices were closed March 5 due to inclement weather. Meek said she believes the judge’s decision speaks for itself.
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