Legal battle continues over an Ohio father's decorations around his son's grave

By BOB GAETJENS | Record-Courier | Published: August 6, 2019

KENT, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Every morning, Fred Molai visits his son's grave at Standing Rock Cemetery in Kent. But for the past six years he said he hasn't been able to "grieve in peace" because of an ongoing legal battle with cemetery trustees.

A U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Adam Molai died in a rafting accident in California in June 2011.

A legal battle over what decorations Molai is permitted to place on his son's grave has been ongoing since 2013 when Molai sought an injunction to prevent Standing Rock Cemetery, which is owned by the city of Kent and Franklin Township, and its board of trustees from removing certain decorations from the gravesite — namely two roughly 8-foot poles on either side with photos of Adam Molai.

On July 31, Molai said, cemetery crews cut down those signs without notifying him.

"They had no business touching it," said Molai. "Without contacting me, they took it down."

City of Kent Law Director Hope Jones and City Councilman Michael DeLeone, a cemetery board trustee, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In May, the Northern District of Ohio Court of Appeals ruled on the case, finding that the two signs with photos of Adam are not permitted because it appears excavation took place to install them, which is against cemetery rules. It also ruled that the "poles and posters" — including the two photos of Adam — could be removed because of the cemetery's right to remove "objects which may be considered objectionable to the general appearance of the cemetery."

That ruling only applies to the pictures of Adam and other poles at the site; the court still permits the flower decorations, according to the appeals court decision, which affirmed the Portage County Court of Common Pleas' decision in the case.

Molai said his attorney, Doug Kehres, recommended that he erect the signs with a bracket around the headstone so the posts didn't have to be installed in the ground. Molai had the work done on July 9, and the next day, they were removed without notice.

"It was above the ground," he said, adding that he had the bracket reinstalled July 11.

Molai said the cemetery board's objection to the pictures of his son and other poles is based on aesthetics. According to the court's decision, there was "testimony by the clerk/treasurer for Standing Rock and another lot owner at the cemetery, that the posters were objectionable and 'gaudy.'"

Molai said there are other large tombs in the cemetery, that the cemetery official's problem with his "shrine" to Adam is purely one of taste.

"They just don't like the way I designed mine," he said. "If you ask me, it's jealousy. It's not gaudy to me; this is just my style. They just don't like my design."

On the heels of the cemetery's decision to cut down the pictures of Adam on July 31, Molai said he's poised to file another legal action, seeking permission to erect them again.

"I will fight for Adam for the rest of my life," he said. "They've shown disrespect to the military, to Adam, to all of us."

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