September 20, 2014

Elyria
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Car dealer cries foul at county investigation

ELYRIA —  A Florida car dealer being sued by county Common Pleas Judge Raymond Ewers in a dispute over a conversion van has accused Lorain County officials of taking the judge’s side and using their offices to help him.

Ewers and his wife sued Genuine Motor Cars Inc. earlier this month over a 2005 Ford Econoline van they purchased from the dealership for nearly $32,000 on eBay in March and drove to Florida to pick up in April while vacationing there. The Ewerses returned the van a few days later, claiming it didn’t have genuine leather seats as advertised.

Ewers

The dealership’s attorney, James Hunter, said Ewers was offered two options when he returned the van — keep the keys and the title or pay $2,100 for mileage and return the van. There was nothing wrong with the van and it had leather seats, despite what Ewers claims, he said.

“It certainly suited the judge’s needs while he drove it 700 miles on his vacation,” he said.

But before filing the lawsuit, Ewers complained to county Prosecutor Dennis Will, who had his chief investigator, Gary Abicht, call the dealership to discuss the dispute.

In a May letter to Will, Hunter said Abicht threatened the owner of the dealership, Joseph Kase, saying that he may be “ ‘dragged out’ of the State of Florida and incarcerated in Ohio.”

Abicht also allegedly told Kase that Ewers is a judge and asked him, “Do you know who you’re dealing with?” the letter said.

In his reply to Hunter, Will suggested that Hunter was trying to deflect scrutiny from his clients.

“Do not suggest that a factual investigation of a $30,000 sale based on internet technology is not within the scope of this office,” Will wrote.

Will said this month that nothing ever came of the investigation and his office would have done the same sort of investigation for anyone who asked.

Hunter said the issue could have been resolved by an arbitrator that the Ewerses agreed to in case of a dispute, but instead Ewers chose to try to force his client to back down.

“He was just trying to browbeat my clients,” he said.

Another concern was raised in a request filed this week with the Ohio Supreme Court in which Hunter asked that all of the judges in Lorain County be prohibited from hearing the case.

That request said a temporary restraining order granted by Common Pleas Judge James Burge that halted an arbitration hearing to resolve the dispute and froze the dealership’s financial assets was biased against the dealership.

The restraining order also caused the dealership to be unable to pay taxes it owed to the state of Florida, which imposed a substantial fine, Hunter said. He said it’s common for restraining orders to be issued, but it is almost unheard of for bank accounts to be frozen.

Burge said he grants restraining orders all the time if a complaint appears legitimate.

“I don’t think I paid any special attention to it because it was Ewers,” he said.

The restraining order expired at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday because the Ohio Supreme Court filing stopped all action on the case and Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski couldn’t hold a hearing about extending it.

Betleski said he had planned to remove himself and ask for a visiting judge if the matter wasn’t settled quickly.

Ewers said the dealership is trying to distract from the fact that they’ve still got his money and the van.

“Everything they’ve been saying is a smokescreen,” he said. “They accepted the van back, they have my money and I’m making payments."

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.