December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Appeals court agrees that judge was correct in not admitting seized pot as evidence

ELYRIA — An appeals court has upheld the decision of a former county judge to bar prosecutors from using nearly 90 pounds of marijuana as evidence against a Massachusetts man who was arrested during a 2010 traffic stop and now faces multiple drug charges.

Now-retired Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski twice ruled that he had issues with how the Ohio Highway Patrol handled the Feb. 2, 2010, traffic stop of Adam Liebling on the Ohio Turnpike.

Trooper Todd Roberts has said he pulled over Liebling’s 1992 Mitsubishi pickup after he saw the vehicle cross over the white line three times in two miles. During the traffic stops and at hearings on the motion to suppress, Liebling said he didn’t cross the white line and had been obeying all other traffic laws.

Among Zaleski’s concerns was that although Roberts had a working camera in his cruiser, he didn’t start recording the incident until after he stopped Liebling.

The judge also had questioned how the drug dog brought to the scene after Roberts smelled marijuana behaved and said he had concerns about video that showed a trooper tossing a stick into the back of Liebling’s truck. That caused Zaleski to ask “whether the dog is sniffing drugs or chasing sticks” in his first decision suppressing the drugs later found in the truck.

Prosecutors successfully appealed that decision, arguing that Zaleski had applied the wrong standard, but the judge issued a new ruling just days before leaving the bench in which he wrote that he didn’t believe Roberts had reasonable suspicion to stop Liebling.

The 9th District Court of Appeals sided with Zaleski in a decision released this week.

They wrote that as the judge hearing the case, Zaleski was best suited to determine who was more credible, Roberts or Liebling.

In the end, Zaleski ruled that he found Liebling’s version of events more believable.

“The trial court specifically noted that there was conflicting testimony presented by the parties and stressed its belief that ‘defendant’s version was ‘more plausible’ and that the trooper’s testimony in this regard was not credible,’” the appeals court wrote.

Liebling, 57, remains free on bond in the case.

Calls to his attorney and prosecutors were not returned Wednesday.

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