WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Felony charges against a former Liberty Superintendent accused of covertly recording a district employee were dismissed.
Joseph Nohra, Jr. was charged in an 11-count indictment charging him with interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications and interfering with civil rights.
Judge Ronald Rice ruled that the statute under which Nohra was charged was vague and ambiguous when applied to certain circumstances of the case.
At the crux of the ruling are six felony counts accusing Nohra of interception of wire and oral communication and if the person or persons in the recording had an expectation of privacy at the time of the recordings. Judge Rice found that in this case that could not be determined.
The alleged crimes happened back in April and May of 2018 while Nohra was conducting an investigation into an employee he believed was stealing from the district.
Nohra, under the guidance of the board’s legal counsel and recommendations from the board, placed a recording device in the carbon monoxide detector above the desk of the employee. According to district policy, surveillance with hidden devices without notice to the person being monitored is allowed with approval from the superintendent and under circumstances where no other option is feasible and that the “need is pressing and outweighs the privacy interest of the students or other persons likely to be observed.”
The device recorded the conversations of at least five people over a two-week period.
Nohra’s attorney Dave Betras said the school board approved what Nohra was doing.
“There was no way Joe could have known he was violating the law. There were no guardrails to clearly say that – and in a public building. It would be different if he recorded someone in their bedroom, but this way a public building, a public school,” Betras said.
Judge Rice wrote that in this case, being a workplace and no clear definition of what could be determined to be a protected conversation and expectation of privacy, that Nohra’s request to dismiss was granted.
Nohra is still facing five misdemeanor counts of interfering with civil rights. He was scheduled to go to trial Jan. 3.