Judge limits jury instructions in Sebring lead in water case


The judge in the James Bates lead-notification case has ruled that jurors will not be instructed that the former Sebring water department operator can be found not guilty because his failure to notify Sebring water customers of high lead levels was a “mistake of fact.”

But Bates’ attorney will be able to present evidence prosecutors had hoped to exclude regarding communications between Bates and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

“Mistake of fact” is a legal concept that means a defendant is not guilty because he misunderstood a fact, such as his obligation to send notices to the public by a certain deadline.

Bates, 62, of Carey Road in Salem, faces three charges. Each carries a possible penalty of four years in prison if he is convicted.

The Sebring notification issue came up a short time after lead-in-the-water notifications became national news because of a similar problem in Flint, Mich. In Sebring, on a smaller scale than Flint, bottled water was trucked into town, the Sebring schools closed temporarily and children were tested for lead in their blood. The Ohio EPA was also criticized at that time for lax oversight of the notification rules.

Read more about the case in Friday's Vindicator or on Vindy.com.

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