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Ex-schools chief ‘emphatically’ denies all charges against him

WARREN — The attorney for Joseph S. Nohra Jr., former Liberty schools superintendent, said his client “emphatically and categorically” denies the charges that he was unlawfully bugging the school district office in 2018.

Nohra, 49, of Topper Hill Drive, Hubbard, was indicted by a special report of the Trumbull County grand jury Monday on six counts of interception of wire, oral or electronic communications and five counts of interfering with civil rights.

“Mr. Nohra emphatically and categorically denies the baseless allegations contained in the indictment,” attorney David Betras stated in a news release Tuesday. “My client is both bewildered and astounded that he now faces criminal charges for taking decisive steps to protect the taxpayers and looks forward to defending himself against these ludicrous accusations.”

According to the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office, the charges deal with Nohra, when he was superintendent, allegedly setting up a hidden surveillance camera and audio above an employee’s desk in the district office. The allegations came from an investigation initiated by the state auditor’s office that was executed through a search warrant by local authorities at the Liberty schools on March 5, 2019.

Betras, however, said his client was presented with credible evidence that a school employee may have been involved in theft in office. Nohra, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and its legal counsel, initiated his own investigation that resulted in that employee’s resignation, Betras said.

“The actions described in the indictment were conducted in conjunction with and for the sole purpose of facilitating the above-referenced investigation,” he stated. “The members of the board of education and the board’s legal counsel approved the initiation of an investigation as well as the use of surveillance equipment before it was installed. In addition, written board policy authorizes the superintendent to utilize surveillance equipment when necessary and with approval of the board, which Mr. Nohra sought and received.”

The alleged criminal offenses occurred over a two-week period in April 2018, the prosecutor’s office stated. Assistant Prosecutor Charles Morrow said he would not comment further on the case facts.

Nohra resigned in June 2020.

The charges against Nohra are fourth-degree felonies, which each carries a potential 18-month prison sentence, and the five other counts are first-degree misdemeanors that each carries a potential six-month jail term.

Meanwhile in a motion filed Tuesday, Prosecutor Dennis Watkins has requested Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay step aside from the case because the judge is Morrow’s brother-in-law.

McKay, who had not ruled on the motion as of Tuesday afternoon, will not preside over Nohra’s arraignment, which has been set for 9 a.m. today in Judge Ronald J. Rice’s courtroom.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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