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by Kevin Osborne 04.30.2012
Posted In: News, Women's Rights, Racism, Equality at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Francie Pepper Wins National YWCA Award

Other winners include U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

A well-known Cincinnati philanthropist is among four people selected to receive the first-ever Women of Distinction Award by the national YWCA.

 

Francie Pepper is being recognized for her years of work in support of issues involving women, girls and racial justice.

 

Pepper has served on the board of the Cincinnati YWCA since 1996, and also served as chair of its board from 2000-04. She has played a critical role for women who have experienced domestic violence, co-chairing a YWCA capital campaign that raised $7.5 million for a larger shelter that tripled the agency’s capacity to serve battered women and their children so they wouldn’t have to be put on a waiting list.

 

Also, some campaign funds were used to restore the YWCA’s historic headquarters, located on Walnut Street downtown, add a childcare center to the facility.

 

Further, Pepper has volunteered for numerous organizations and causes in Greater Cincinnati, and her work in support of domestic violence awareness programs has gotten national recognition. She is a major supporter of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, an internationally recognized repository of manuscripts, archives, photographs, periodicals and other primary sources in women's history, including all of the YWCA’s historical files.

 

Francie Pepper is the wife of John Pepper, who previously served as the chairman of the board at both Procter & Gamble and The Walt Disney Co.; she is the mother of David Pepper, a former Cincinnati city councilman and Hamilton County commissioner.

 

The Women of Distinction Award, bestowed by the YWCA USA, honors professional women from the private and public sectors across the United States who have demonstrated excellence, leadership and integrity in their fields and in the community, serving as role models for other successful women.

 

Nominations from YWCAs across the United States were solicited to find leaders whose work has made an impact on women’s economic empowerment and racial justice.

 

Other award recipients this year are:

 

• Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived an assassination attempt in January 2011, and is recovering from her injuries;

 

• Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and ex-Army helicopter pilot who combat wounds led to the amputation of her legs and cost her the use of her right arm; and


Elouise Cobell, a Native American leader who challenged the United States' mismanagement of trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 individual Native Americans, leading to a $3.4 billion settlement.
 
 
by Hannah McCartney 07.19.2012
Posted In: Death Penalty, Courts, Equality at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Racial Bias in Death Penalty Cases Gets Ohio Supreme Court's Attention

Death Penalty Task Force approves changes to prevent discrimination

Ohio’s death penalty came under scrutiny again today, when the Ohio Supreme Court's Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty heard presentations from three different subcommittees on strategies to make sure the process in administering a death penalty sentence in Ohio is transparent and fair.

The task force heard presentations from the Law Enforcement Subcommittee, Race and Ethnicity Subcommittee and Clemency Subcommittee; the Clemency Subcommittee's recommendation was passed, while the Law Enforcement Subcommittee's recommendations were tabled for the next task force meeting, pending further review.

The Race and Ethnicity Subcommittee presented recommendations for dealing with evidence of longstanding racial bias in Ohio death penalty cases.


A 2005 Associated Press study concluded that offenders who killed white victims were significantly more likely to receive the death penalty than when victims were black, regardless of the race of the defendant. See the below chart, courtesy of the Associated Press, which charts the rate of death sentencing for defendants charged with killing white versus black victims during the course of the study, which was conducted from Oct. 1981-2002.




The Supreme Court’s Race and Ethnicity subcommittee made seven recommendations, three of which passed. Those passed include a mandate that all attorneys and judges in death penalty cases attend training to detect and protect against racial bias, and that attorneys must seek recusal of judges who are suspected of being motivated by racially discriminatory factors. Implementing the recommendations won't be immediate; according to Bret Crow, Public Information Officer for the Supreme Court of Ohio, task forces typically submit a final report to the Ohio Supreme Court for input, a process that might not be completed until into 2013.

Recommendations that were tabled to be reconsidered at a Sept. 27 meeting of the task force included the recommendation that all death penalty-eligible homicide cases be maintained and monitored for evidence of racial bias by the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.

According to the Associated Press, the data collection would apply to both old cases and any future homicides that could result in death penalty allegations. It wouldn’t, however, impact whether or not the death penalty should be an option of punishment in the state of Ohio.

Ohio’s death penalty has come under fire several times over the last year, even experiencing an extended moratorium on executions set forth by a U.S. District Judge, who ruled that Ohio unconstitutionally wasn’t following its own death penalty procedure and couldn’t be trusted to ethically carry out executions.

CityBeat reported on July 3 about the avoided execution of Abdul Awkal, a Muslim who narrowly escaped his death penalty sentence with the help of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC). Awkal was ruled not competent enough to be executed after making several statements suggesting he didn’t understand the reason for his execution.
 

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 07.19.2013
Posted In: Equality, LGBT Issues, News at 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Newlywed Gay Couple Sues State of Ohio for Discrimination

Plaintiffs: Out-of-state same-sex marriages must be treated equally

A gay couple living in Ohio has filed a lawsuit today against the state of Ohio for failing to recognize their Maryland-certified same-sex marriage, which they claim is discriminatory because the state is required to recognize any certified heterosexual marriage from another state as valid.

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and disabling neurological disease that causes muscles to rapidly deteriorate, traveled to Maryland last week to officially tie the knot after remaining as partners for 20 years, reports Cincinnati.com. The trip reportedly cost nearly $13,000 for a chartered, medically-equipped plane, all of which was sourced by donations from friends and family.

Arthur, 47, is a bed-ridden hospice patient and was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. 

In a press release from Gerhardstein & Branch, the legal association representing the couple, Obergefell stated that not recognizing Arthur's marriage on his death certificate, when the time comes, would be unconstitutional. "It is the final record of a citizen's life. It must be accurate. We hope that this can be one small step toward making marriage equality a reality in Ohio and perhaps all 50 states," he noted. 

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who is representing Arthur and Obergefell, cites the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause, noting that the Supreme Court's historic overturn of DOMA has stripped states of the right to discriminate against couples who seek same-sex marriages.

"John and James were validly married in Maryland. If they were an opposite sex couple, Ohio would recognize their marriage. Being a same-sex couple is no longer a good enough reason to deny them equal rights.”

As an example, he explains that should two first cousins fall in love in the state of Ohio, they can't be wed in Ohio and have their union recognized; however, should they travel to Georgia, where marrying your first cousin is legal, they could come back to Ohio and have a recognizable union under state law, enjoying the same benefits as any other heterosexual married couple in Ohio. The same rules would follow for other stipulations prohibited under Ohio law, such as getting married underage in another state where the union would be legal.

Defense attorneys Terry Nester and Bridget Koontz were not available for comment. CityBeat will update this story with any changes.

Gerhardstein told CityBeat that the plaintiffs will go before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Monday, July 22, to ask for an expedited ruling in light of Arthur's rapidly deteriorating condition.

"Had the Supreme Court made this decision one year ago, this would have been as simple as us taking a trip because I could still walk. It's the progression for me of the ALS, it's...it's just compounded everything," he told Cincinnati.com camera crews earlier this week.


 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.22.2012
Posted In: Education, LGBT Issues, Equality, News, Courts at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Judge Rules 'Jesus is Not a Homophobe' T-shirt Permissible

Federal court orders district to pay $20,000 in damages and costs for banning teen's shirt

A federal court judge in Cincinnati ruled Monday that gay Ohio student Maverick Couch will be permitted to wear his "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe" T-shirt to school whenever he pleases.

Wayne Local School District, the district in which Couch attends high school, will also be required to pay Couch $20,000 in damages and court costs, according to Judge Michael Barrett's ruling.

Couch was first prevented from wearing the T-shirt in April 2011, when he showed up to school in the shirt during a "Day of Silence," meant to raise awareness of cases in which gay students are victims of bullying. Waynesville High School Principal Randy Gebhardt allegedly told Couch that he needed to either wear the T-shirt inside out or remove it, stating that the "T-shirt had to do with religion, religion and state have to be separate," and the T-shirt was "disrupting the educational process."

Couch complied, and was asked to remove the shirt when he wore it to school a second time. Principal Gebhardt threatened to suspend Couch if the shirt was worn again.

Couch and Lambda Legal Defense, a legal organization focused on protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, brought forth a lawsuit against Wayne Local School District on April 3, 2012, alleging that Couch's first amendment rights had been egregiously violated in barring him from wearing the shirt. Only a day after the lawsuit was filed, administrators at Waynesville High School told Couch he'd be allowed to wear the T-shirt annually on one day exclusively: "Day of Silence," which took place April 20.

"I just wanted to wear my shirt. The shirt is a statement of pride, and I hope other students like me know that they can be proud, too," said Couch, according to lamdalegal.org.

When Lambda Legal sent a letter inquiring about Couch's First Amendment rights to the school district, this was the district's response: "the message communicated by the student's T-shirt was sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in the school."

For information about LGBTQ students' rights in schools, click here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 09.26.2013
 
 
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State Rep. John Becker Is a Sore Loser

Becker worried a same-sex marriage case will turn U.S. socialist, make him cry

When my brother and I were little kids, we used to play board games all the time, and because I was older and smarter I usually won. Back in those days, my little bro didn’t really understand the concept of sportsmanship and he would sometimes defiantly flip over the entire Stratego board when I started to win a game and get really close to finding his flag, and then he’d storm off and say I cheated (I didn’t cheat, Dylan!). 

Republican Rep. John Becker is pretty upset that a terminally ill gay man has earned the right to die in peace, and now it’s become a very real possibility that other gay Ohioans might also get to die (and live) in peace. And, just like my brother, he’s kind of trying to ruin the game for everyone just because he’s losing.

In July, Judge Timothy Black heard the case of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, a long-term gay couple who flew to Maryland to marry at the beginning of the month because Arthur is terminally ill, in hospice care, and not expected to live much longer.  

Obergefell and Arthur sued the state of Ohio for discrimination in not recognizing their out-of-state gay marriage, legal and recognized in Maryland, when other gay couples residing in states recognizing same-sex marriages and subsequently moved to Ohio would have their marriages treated as valid. And because Arthur is terminally ill, it's just as much for the emotional connection as it is for any kind of economic benefit.

Here's what Obergefell wrote in his original complaint (grab a tissue):

“Our legacy as a married couple is very important to John and me… in two or more generations our descendants will not know who we are. Married couples, often through research based on death records, have recognition for their special status forever. I want my descendants generations from now who research their history to learn that I loved and married John and that he loved and married me. They will know that they had gay ancestor who was proud and strong and in love.”

In his ruling, Black called the case “not complicated,” explaining that he’d allow the marriage to be legalized on Arthur’s death certificate because it was likely a constitutional violation that the state of Ohio treated lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages differently than lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages. 

In September, he ruled to allow the marriage of another gay couple — David Michener and William Herbert Ives — after Ives unexpectedly passed away in late August. Although these aren't (yet) blanket rulings, they're being interpreted as monumental victories for supporters of marriage equality.

Becker, then, decided to do the political equivalent of my brother running to my mom and accusing me of cheating; he wrote U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and called for Black to be impeached for “malfeasance and abuse of power,” which apparently made him really concerned about the “federal government’s ever growing propensity to violate state sovereignty.” 

Unfortunately, though, U.S. District Court judges are appointed for life, so since Becker’s claims against Judge Black are totally unfounded, Black is free to continue to anger Becker and other people who don't approve of equality for gay couples.

Alphonse Gerhardstein, the attorney for both couples, calls Becker's response to the rulings "bullying."

"Federal judges are granted tenure for life for a reason. It's their job to enforce core principles even when the majority disagrees," he says. "Look at the Dred Scott case. I think most people would agree that's the worst case decision ever made by a judge, and even he didn't get impeached." (In case you forget, he's talking about Dred Scott v. Sandford, the landmark 1857 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ruled black people weren't citizens.)

Things that actually can get a judge impeached, says Gerhardstein, are offenses like having sex with a criminal defendant or taking bribes. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the court added licensed funeral director Robert Grunn, who is responsible for registering deaths and providing personal information to the state on what should go on a death certificate, to the list of plaintiffs. Grunn currently serves same-sex couples when he signs death certificates, says the lawsuit, including those with marriages recognized outside the state of Ohio. The lawsuit, if successful, could require all funeral directors to recognize gay clients as married on death certificates if they were legally married in a different state.

Gerhardstein also says since accepting Arthur and Obergefell's case, he and his colleagues have received inquiries from between 30 to 50 other gay couples seeking legal recognitions of their out-of-state marriages. For now, he says, he and his firm are concentrating on cases specifically involving recognizing same-sex marriages on death certificates, although this litigation could (and probably will) lead to other blanket rulings on how same-sex marriages are recognized in Ohio. 

Another hearing with Judge Black is scheduled for Dec. 18.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.16.2013
Posted In: Social Justice, Equality, News at 12:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Homophobic Boy Scouts Supporters to Protest Inclusion

Local rally to protest the BSA's proposed open homosexuality resolution

While the rest of the world is dealing with problems like gun violence, poverty, hunger, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, hoards of people all across the country tomorrow will dedicate their time, energy and voices to another important cause.

That cause, of course, is protesting the Boy Scouts of America's proposal to change its homophobic membership standards and start openly recognizing that some Boy Scouts are going to be gay and stay that way, whether a bunch of uptight parents want to realize it or not.

It's propelled by OnMyHonor.net, which describes itself as a "coalition of concerned Boy Scouts of America (BSA) parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts and other Scouting leaders who affirm Scouting's timeless values." By "values," of course, they're referring directly to their idea that allowing open homosexuality among Boy Scouts would be some kind of moral dilemma that would inevitably lead to the organization's demise and corrupt little badge-seeking boys all across America.

The resolution is to be voted on by the Boy Scouts national council meeting on May 22 in Grapevine, Texas. At a place, in some awesome twist of fate, called the GAYLORD TEXAN RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER.

If it's approved, it would change the current membership policy and allow openly gay Scouts, but leaders would still have to stay in the closet, which is totally inconsistent and probably would be really confusing for kids who are supposed to look up to troop leaders as idols and mentors. 

For now, the local anti-gay Scout supporters are holding their "Rally for Scouting" at noon on Friday, May 17 in protest of the change at the Dan Beard Council at 10078 Reading Road in Evendale. It joins 39 other chapters across the country. 

On My Honor recently published an open letter to BSA delegates on why they should vote "no," and it's full of even more incongruities than the proposed membership policy, including assertions that allowing Boy Scouts to be openly gay will lead to mass gay orgies and ultimately lead to the downfall of the entire Boy Scouts. See it for yourself:

Open Letter to BSA Delegates Apr 29 2013

 
 
by German Lopez 05.02.2012
 
 
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City, State Move Forward With Same-Sex Rights

Trend follows other cities, states, countries and a majority of Fortune 500 companies

Cincinnati inched closer to equality after moving forward Monday with a measure that would allow city employees in same-sex and other partnerships to receive health insurance benefits.

With a push by Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay councilman in Cincinnati, the measure passed the finance committee with the support of all council members except Charlie Winburn, who abstained.

The approval came after a city report found that same-sex benefits could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits.

The report suggested City Council mimic a system already in place in Columbus, which requires partners to prove financial interdependency and that they have been together for six months.

If the measure passes City Council, Cincinnati would be more caught up with other cities, states, countries and companies that already grant health benefits to same-sex couples. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign estimated that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples, including Procter and Gamble and Fifth Third Bank.

Altogether, it seems like a small step toward equality. What’s unfortunate is none of it would be required if same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio. If it was, same-sex couples could get marriage benefits, including health-care coverage.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday approved the petition language for an amendment that would overturn Ohio’s 2004 ban on gay marriage. The new amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”

The amendment now moves forward to the Ohio Ballot Board. If approved, it will then require 385,253 signatures from registered voters and, finally, voter approval.

Ohio banned same-sex marriage in 2004 with a majority vote of 62 percent. But Ian James, co-founder of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, told the Huffington Post that he is optimistic things will be different this time, citing recent polls that show the nation is moving toward support of gay marriage.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 04.18.2012
Posted In: Equality, Ethics at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Kasich Office Shows Gender Wage Gap

Governor's male staffers earn 56 percent more than women

As of late, the media has been shoving it in my face that being a woman kind of sucks. Yesterday in particular was a painful reminder that aside from women's highly publicized birth control and body woes as of late, our male counterparts still earn more than $10,000 per year more the rest of us working females.

April 17 was "Equal Pay Day," a holiday created to illuminate the gap between the wages of women and men, even in the 21st century. We've been "celebrating" the holiday in April since 1996 in order to signify the point in the year into which women must work (on top of the previous year) to earn what male counterparts earned in one year. Jezebel reported it best with a lovely chart illustrating all the things men can buy with the extra moolah they make (I'd pay off my student loans and then buy a modest beach bungalow on the Mediterranean. You?). 

Political website plunderbund.com recently took the time to dig up some even more grim statistics — ones that bode far more ominously for anyone working under Ohio Gov. John Kasich's regime. A simple examination of public salary records found massive inequities between Kasich's male staffers and female staffers. The findings, which highlight the biweekly earnings of employees working in the governor's office, showcase that Kasich's male staffers earn a whopping 56 percent more than female staffers. The below image shows women's salaries highlighted in yellow, while men's are left blue. Granted, the positions of the people named aren't listed, but the gap exists nonetheless.

"Of the 34 people listed as Governor’s office employees, only 4 of the top 17 paid staffers are women (76 percent are men). And only 4 of the bottom 17 are men (76 percent are women)," reports Plunderbund.


If you compute the average salaries earned by men and women in Kasich's office, respectively, you'll find the numbers even more stark; $77,730.88 versus $49,498.52.

According to the latest Census statistics, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. If the numbers in Kasich's offices meshed up with that statistic, women working in his office should, in theory, be making about $60,000 compared to men's $77,730.88. What gives? Perhaps it has something to do with Kasich simply not wanting to employ women in high-power positions in his office, instead relegating them to lower positions; it was Kasich, after all, who famously said, "I had a woman campaign manager, I have a woman lieutenant governor, I have a woman finance chairman, and I’m married to a woman with two daughters, OK? I’ve said all along, I really wish I could get some guys around me."

Either way, the gap in Kasich's office should raise some eyebrows about staffing and salary decisions by the state governor.

Critics of the existing pay gap nationwide insist that it continues to triumph because of occupational and lifestyle choices (e.g., not as many women pursue high-paying, elected positions), "rigorous analysis of data by labor economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found that over 40 percent of the pay gap cannot be explained by such differences, concluding that 'there is evidence that…discrimination does still continue to exist.'" according to this article published by the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan educational institute.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.29.2013
 
 
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Trial Begins for Pregnant Teacher Fired by Archdiocese

Repeated discrimination in local Catholic Church takes spotlight

The Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been mired in quite a bit of trouble over the past several years for its morally outdated (and unjust) policies, and now one of the allegations has reached the courts. Today marked the second day of juror hearings in a schoolteacher's lawsuit against the Archdiocese and the two schools from which she was fired for violating her civil rights.

In 2010, schoolteacher Christa Dias, a single, non-ministerial employee at both Holy Family and St. Lawrence Schools, parochial schools owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, became pregnant via artificial insemination. At five and a half months pregnant, she asked her employers for something millions of U.S. women ask for every year: maternity leave.

She got more than she bargained for, though, when her employers fired her, assuming Dias had engaged in premarital sex (one of the many "moral" no-nos in the Catholic Church — for women, at least). She was informed that she was let go because she'd violated a moral clause in the Catholic doctrine that she'd agreed to adhere to when she signed her employment contract, which, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, makes it okay to discriminate when the discrimination falls under something called "ministerial exception" —  a pesky and vague part of civil labor laws exempting religious policies from some basic rules for equality in the workplace.

Ergo: Women who are fired by the Catholic Church for getting pregnant face unfair discrimination because men aren't held to the same standard. Obviously, it's impossible to detect whether or not single male employees are engaging in premarital sex (but they probably are). The basis of Dias' lawsuit is that that little gender caveat is an inherent for of discrimination against women because women and men aren't held to the same moral standards.

Although her employers originally told her she was fired for premarital sex, they later retracted that assertion and said that the use of artificial insemination was immoral, also a violation of the Catholic doctrine.

According to the AP, Dias today told jurors she didn't realize that artificial insemination was a violation of church doctrine or that having the procedure could get her fired. The archdiocese's attorney, Steve Goodin, says that Dias was not discriminated against because she signed a contract that clearly commanded she abide by the Catholic doctrine.

CityBeat reported on a similar case of discrimination by the Catholic Church earlier this year ("Unforgiven Offenses," issue of Jan. 9, 2013), which detailed a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio by former schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan, who was also fired from her non-ministerial position at Ascension Catholic School in Kettering, Ohio, in December 2011 after she approached her principal, told him about her pregnancy and offered to work behind-the-scenes until she gave birth. 

Again, her employers and the Archdiocese used the "morality clause" to defend their position.

And then there was Johnathan Zeng ("Gays, Even Christians, Need Not Apply," issue of June 13, 2012), who was offered a job as a music teacher at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy (CHCA) Armleder School after two weeks of discussions; Zeng even put on a teacher demonstration in front of a third grade class. When a board representative asked him point-blank if he was gay, Zeng told the truth: yes, he was gay. All of a sudden, Zeng was out of the running, even though he was already pinpointed as the most qualified applicant.

The outcome of Dias' case could set a major precedent for courts ruling on ministerial exception in the future. Last year, the Supreme Court ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, courts sided with the church in a fired teacher's discrimination lawsuit, ruling that because she had some religious duties as a teacher, federal discrimination laws didn't apply.

Some local Catholics, at least, are firing back against the archdiocese's archaic policies; recently, Debra Meyers was ordained as Cincinnati's first female Catholic priest by the Association of Roman Woman Catholic Priests, despite opposition from local Catholic leaders and the Vatican. Read our interview with her here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 04.04.2013
Posted In: Poverty, Prisons, Equality at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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ACLU: Ohio Courts Wrongfully Criminalizing Poor

Hamilton County Municipal Court included on list of offenders

A new report from the ACLU of Ohio released today suggests that in many courts across Ohio, it's a crime just to be poor.

The report, titled The Outskirts of Hope, delineates how several courts across Ohio, including Hamilton County Municipal Court, are unlawfully jailing people because they’re too impoverished to pay court fines.

It’s a system called “debtors’ prisons,” a tool in which people are jailed for debts as small as a few hundred dollars, even when the offense committed could have been something as minor as allowing a dog to walk off its leash in public, according to Mike Brickner, ACLU Ohio's director of communications
.

“Today across Ohio, municipalities routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution,” reads the report.

It’s referring to Bearden v. Georgia, the landmark Supreme Court case in which the courts ruled it was unlawful to imprison someone for failure to pay a criminal fine unless the non-payment was “willful,” also upheld in the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Revised Code. That means that if a judge is able to determined than an individual actually does have the financial resources available to pay a court fine but refuses to do so, he or she is subject to incarceration, not for actually failing to pay the fines but for willfully refusing to do so. In the case of not being able to afford the fine, the jailing is for a civil misdoing, not a criminal one, and, according to the ACLU, that’s not something that merits jail time costly to the state of Ohio.

The report examined 11 different counties in Ohio and found that seven of courts in at least seven counties, including Bryan Municipal Court, Hamilton County Municipal Court, Mansfield Municipal Court, Parma Municipal Court, Sandusky Municipal Court, Springboro Mayor’s Court and Norwalk Municipal Court, were using some form of  “debtors’ prison” practices by illegally jailing people for not paying fines without the judge-certified ruling that they’re financially capable of doing so.

In one finding, the ACLU points out that the staff at the Norwalk Municipal Court’s Clerk of Court Office in Huron County “openly admitted that whenever court records showed a person was incarcerated for ten days on a ‘contempt’ charge, this meant he or she had most likely been jailed for failure to pay fines.”

The ACLU’s investigation found that over a six-month period, 22 percent — more than one in five — of the total bookings at the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.

ACLU staff members attended multiple contempt hearings in the Norwalk Municipal Court and found a pattern for dealing with non-payment at hearings, noting that “people facing jail time were informed of the total amount owed and, without any inquiry into their financial situations, assigned arbitrary monthly payment plans. At no time were they informed of their right to counsel. The court informed them that, if they did not stay current in these payment plans, they would be required to turn themselves in to jail on a specific date several months in the future.”

That’s where the vicious cycle begins; if the fines weren’t paid and the individual didn’t report to jail, he or she would be taken to jail and incarcerated for 10 days with no bond. Ten days later, they’d be released with an extra stack of fines involved in the arrest, creating more crippling debt and often causing this process to be repeated.  

The number of people living in poverty grew by 57.7 percent in Ohio from 1999 to 2011, according to the report — a trend mirrored across the Midwest. The ACLU calls for courts to be more transparent in communicating defendants their rights, consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and "willfulness" to pay accumulated fines and provide retroactive debt credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty.

Brickner says ACLU Ohio sent a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O'Connor outlining the report, and he's hopeful the Supreme Court will issue statewide guidelines to make the laws extremely clear to judges across the state.

"With these 11 cases, we believe they're just the tip of the iceberg," says Brickner.

 
 

 

 

 
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