Belmont County's new sheriff, Dave Lucas, took office earlier this month with a dark cloud hanging over his head. The sooner that issue is resolved, the better.
Some critics of the sheriff say he does not meet the requirements in Ohio law to hold his position. Lucas maintains he is qualified.
At issue is Lucas' background - specifically, whether he met requirements for law enforcement service during the three or four years prior to qualifying as a candidate for sheriff.
Lucas retired as a full-time officer in the Belmont County Sheriff's Office on Oct. 31, 2007. But after that, he was employed as a reserve officer for the department.
Former Sheriff Fred Thompson objected before his defeat in the primary election that Lucas did not meet the background requirement. But the rules for such challenges require that to be considered, they must come from a member of the same political party as the candidate whose qualifications are being questioned. Lucas is a Republican and Thompson is a Democrat, so that challenge was dismissed. Two other protests were dismissed by the county Board of Elections for that reason and because they were filed after the primary.
Reportedly, another challenge is being considered by a registered Republican, however. It could result in a petition to the Ohio Supreme Court seeking action against Lucas.
Again, Lucas says he meets requirements of the Ohio Revised Code to have been a candidate and to hold the office of sheriff. A section of the law regarding those requirements may bolster his case. Included in definitions of acceptable experience during the three years before a candidate is certified to run for sheriff is "a member of an auxiliary police force organized by county, township, or municipal law enforcement authorities." Service as an auxiliary officer for the Belmont County Sheriff's Department may meet that test.
Often, words used in the code books may not mean what they appear to, however. Much of what judges do is rule on arguments by lawyers over how words and phrases are to be defined.
So the state's highest court may be asked to accept arguments and rule in the Lucas case. If so, state Supreme Court justices should do all in their power to expedite the proceedings. If they are called upon to decide the issue, it could conceivably mean overturning the election for sheriff last November and ordering a new one. Belmont County residents deserve to know as quickly as possible whether that will happen.