ASHLAND — A Crestline man’s jury trial that gained national attention earlier this year as the first attempted proceeding of its kind amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been postponed for a sixth time.
At a criminal case status hearing Tuesday morning, Ashland County Common Pleas Court Judge Ron Forsthoefel expressed intentions to again delay the jury trial of Seth Whited, which was set to start June 29.
Whited, 26, is charged with child endangerment and three lesser felonies.
This time, the continuance for his trial doesn’t relate to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous jury trials have already begun across Ohio with social distancing precautions in place, Forsthoefel said.
Rather, he was forced to postpone what he had set as a “firm date” for Whited’s trial because the Crestline man terminated his lawyer, attorney Adam Stone “in an effort to ensure that he enjoys the right to a fair and impartial jury trial,” according to documents filed with the court.
“Obviously, under the ethics rules, if an individual is actually terminating their employment of an attorney, they have an absolute right to do that for whatever reason,” Forsthoefel said. “I’d be silly to go forward with a trial and try to make Mr. Stone show up if he’s been terminated that invites appealable error. And I’d be crazy to require Mr. Whited to proceed without counsel. So my hands are kind of tied.”
At a criminal motion hearing Friday, Whited mentioned attorney Dean Henry of Tiffin as his new representation.
When meeting with Forsthoefel Tuesday, Henry said he was not yet retained as Whited’s attorney, but he’d consider taking the case with more time to prepare.
“I’m perfectly willing to do that, but I can not possibly enter an appearance on a case where I have to try it in six days' time,” Henry said.
He spoke with Forstoefel and assistant prosecutor Victor Perez to identify Sept. 21 as a potential new date for the trial, and assured Forsthoefel that he’d provide an answer by Friday as to whether he’d been retained by Whited.
“I can tell you, the trial can’t go forward on the 29th. My hands have been tied. I’m not happy about that fact, but my hands have been tied,” Forstoefel said.
Whited is charged with a third-degree felony for child endangerment, relating to handling a small child in a cruel manner, and three fifth-degree felony counts, relating to unauthorized use of a computer or telecommunications. The lesser charges accuse him of hacking into his former girlfriend’s work email account.
Whited’s trial began briefly in late April, but came to an abrupt halt. It was postponed after Whited was taken to the hospital following what the court described as a panic attack and tested for COVID-19 while there. Though the test came back negative, he was ordered to quarantine for six days in case of a false negative, according to Stone.
Earlier that week, Stone was also asked to quarantine after learning he had interacted with a client who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Forsthoefel reset the trial for Tuesday, May 12, but later agreed to postpone further to one of three “firm” dates. June 29 was agreed on by all parties.
“It is a trial I want to get taken care of. We have appropriate measures. We are no longer the first court in the state to be conducting a jury trial. They are occurring now all over the state,” Forsthoefel said Tuesday.
“My procedures, my COVID-19 protections, are better than what I’ve heard other judges are doing in other counties.”