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Local Case Goes to Ohio Supreme Court

By Kevin Osborne · May 12th, 2010 · Porkopolis
A local child custody battle involving a same-sex couple that could establish an important legal precedent is headed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The case involving former partners Michele Hobbs and Kelly Mullen about access to their 4-year-old daughter Lucy was featured in a recent CityBeat cover story. As the article related, Mullen gave birth to the girl while she and Hobbs were a couple living together in the Prospect Hill section of Mount Auburn.

After the pair broke up two years ago, Mullen wouldn’t let Hobbs see the child they had raised together, stating Hobbs had no legal rights because she wasn’t a biological parent. Hobbs sued for joint custody and a Hamilton County Juvenile Court magistrate ruled in her favor in December 2008.

But Mullen appealed, and Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Lipps overturned the magistrate’s decision and terminated the joint custody arrangement. Lipps based his decision on the fact there wasn’t a written custody agreement between the women.

Hobbs appealed to the First District Court of Appeals. In an unusual decision issued on New Year’s Eve, a three-judge panel affirmed that a contract of shared custody can be implied on a non-biological third-party through “words, actions or deeds” — like raising and helping care for a child — and not just a written agreement. Still, although the decision’s impact would affect other former same-sex couples in similar situations across Ohio, the panel said it didn’t apply to Hobbs because Mullen never signed a written custody agreement.

The precedent-setting case prompted strange alliances. While Lambda Legal — a national organization devoted to achieving full civil rights for lesbians and gay men — assisted Hobbs, Mullen’s stance was supported by conservative groups like Virginia-based Liberty Counsel, which is affiliated with the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The same group also has fought against same-sex marriage and adoptions by gay people.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case later this year.

Same-sex couples in Ohio, according to a UCLA report, are raising almost 12,000 children.

*****

The column I wrote last month to commemorate Tax Day entitled “Corporations Don’t Pay Their Fair Share” elicited quite a reaction.

Some people supported the column’s stance that large businesses should bear more of the U.S.

tax burden to benefit the general welfare, and politicians should clamp down on tax loopholes and shelters. Other readers tried to defend the discredited tax policy of “trickle down economics” that’s ravaged the middle class.

One letter writer stated, “if the bad guy corporations and Wall Street bankers do not make a profit, year after year, who’s going to create the jobs necessary to get us out from under all this mess?” Bunk. Most major corporations are only all too willing to ship whatever jobs they can overseas, where they can be filled by cheap labor in nations with less strict safety and environmental standards.

Moreover, I highly doubt that most “Wall Street bankers” are responsible for creating many jobs, as they would rather dabble in creating complicated financial instruments like credit default swaps that have no useful purpose other than helping them turn a quick profit, instead of investing in actual goods and services that benefit society.

Regardless, since I wrote the April 14 column, I’ve come across some interesting facts.

In an article published a day later in The Nation magazine, “The Great Tax Shift,” writer Chuck Collins expanded on the same theme.

“Since 1960, the share of household income that middle class households paid in federal taxes has increased slightly, from 15.9 to 16.1 percent,” Collins wrote. “But America’s wealthiest taxpayers have seen their tax outlays, as a share of income, drop by almost half. The top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with incomes starting at $2 million, saw the share of income paid in federal taxes decline from 60 to 33.6 percent between 1960 and 2004.

“During President Bush’s eight years in office, we expanded tax cuts to Americans with incomes over $250,000,” Collins added. “We had to add another $700 billion to the national debt to cover them.”

Writer Les Leopold put it in starker terms on the AlterNet Web site.

“In the 1950s the marginal tax rate on those earning more than $3 million a year (in today’s dollars) was 91 percent. By 1990 it was 28 percent,” Leopold wrote.

The facts are indisputable: It’s the middle class that’s under siege, and it’s imperative voters hold politicians from both parties accountable for changing the situation.

*****

Last week’s column examined the recently disclosed advisory opinion the Ohio Ethics Commission gave last year to Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz. In short, the opinion stated that because a company owned by Bortz’s family owns land along a proposed streetcar route, Bortz shouldn’t vote on decisions about the project.

Bortz has disregarded the advice, and this week was part of the council majority that voted 6-2 to issue $64 million in bonds to help pay for the system.

As a result, an attorney representing two streetcar opponents has threatened to sue City Council to stop the action.

Despite the rhetoric, City Council’s recent vote only authorizes the bond money if needed but doesn’t obligate the city to spend it if the project runs into trouble later.

Bortz has argued that he can participate in decisions by citing an Ethics Commission opinion from 1992 that states “(Ohio law) does not prohibit village council members who own property within the village from benefiting from an infrastructure improvement which is part of a comprehensive neighborhood program.”

Oh, really?

Another opinion, from 1998, states, “With respect to family members, the commission has specifically stated that (state law) prohibits a public official or employee from using her authority or influence, formally or informally, to secure anything of value for members of the official’s or employee’s family.”

The fact is, ethics commissioners — just like city council members — leave office and are replaced by people who can interpret the law differently.

Further muddying the legal waters is a $100 million project in Clifton Heights planned by the Bortz family business, Towne Properties, directly on the streetcar route. A December 2008 item on the Urban Cincy blog stated the company designed the project “with the streetcar in mind” and is “expecting the streetcar system to loop the project.”

The bottom line: Bortz is unnecessarily complicating an already difficult issue and is giving streetcar foes plenty of ammunition to confuse the public and stop the project. He should step aside from voting.


PORKOPOLIS TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or pork@citybeat.com

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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