The court case is over, but issues of race and politics that made it so contentious continue swirling.
Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel sentenced former Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter to six months in jail and a year of probation Dec. 5 after she was convicted on one of nine felony counts last month. Hunter asked Nadel to defer her prison sentence until an appeal of her conviction had gone through. Nadel denied that request today and Hunter will most likely be behind bars soon.
Some say justice has been served, but others say the penalty is too harsh and premature. A letter signed by 56 people including many area Democrat leaders to Nadel Dec. 8 asked the judge to defer Hunter’s sentence until after her appeal is heard. The letter says Hunter’s appeal is made on “substantial grounds” and points out that if she goes to jail now and is latter vindicated, it will be a “pyrrhic victory” because she will have already served her sentence by that time. The letter cites the fact Hunter has no previous record and did not stand to gain financially from the crime.
It also points out the racial tension over the case and connects it to larger issues of race relations in the region and around the country, as anger continues over recent police killings of unarmed black men and a refusal by grand juries to indict officers in those cases.
“All across the country, serious questions of trust are being raised about the fairness of our justice system in dealing with matters involving race,” said the letter sent by the Hamilton County Democratic Party and signed by Chairman Tim Burke, State Senator elect Cecil Thomas, State Rep. Alicia Reece and other notable party members. “To sentence to jail the only African American to ever be elected to our juvenile court, and one of the very few African Americans to ever be elected in a contested county-wide election in Hamilton County … will only deepen that mistrust. That is particularly true in light of the fact that other first-time offenders under similar circumstances would receive no jail time at all.”
Hunter was the juvenile court’s first black judge. After the
election for the seat in 2010 went to her opponent by a very narrow margin, she
fought a year-and-a-half-long court battle in order to get uncounted votes
counted to prove she had won. She came into the position intent on changing a
system where black juveniles are 10 times more likely to be arrested than
Almost 80 percent of children arrested in Hamilton County are black, according to a November federal lawsuit by Covington-based Children’s Law Center against the county.
That resolve ruffled feathers. Among others, The Cincinnati Enquirer sued her for refusing to let reporters into her courtroom. Hunter’s methods as a judge were unorthodox and her opponents say often illegal.
After a long, dramatic trial, Hunter was convicted last month for interceding on behalf of her brother, a juvenile court employee who was fired for allegedly punching an underage inmate. Hunter obtained medical records on that inmate for her brother, prosecutors charged. A jury deadlocked on eight other felony charges involving fraud, misuse of a court credit card, interfering with investigations and forgery. She motioned for a retrial three times, citing three black jurors who recanted their guilty verdicts and procedural irregularities in the courtroom. Judge Nadel denied all three motions.
Critics like Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou say Hunter was quite simply a bad judge and that her indictment and conviction have nothing to do with race. Her stature as a judge only makes her transgressions worse, and she should be disciplined accordingly, her critics say. That means jail time for a low-level felony that usually only gets probation.
“Judge Hunter is a judge and a public official," Nadel said after Hunter was sentenced. "Unfortunately, it may be a felony 4, but that is a double whammy."
UPDATED Nov. 28, 12:45 PM: Judge Ted Berry waived
the tracking device requirement for the protesters today, and those who posted bail (all but one) should be released in the next few hours.
Original Post: Some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday’s march through downtown Cincinnati in solidarity with Ferguson, Mo. paid bail the next day. But while most folks were at home enjoying Thanksgiving Thursday, they were still in the Hamilton County Justice Center because some county offices are closed.
The march drew as many as 300 people during its nearly three-hour duration. During that time, at least 100 protesters streamed onto I-75, bringing traffic to a halt for a few minutes. Police, who had blocked traffic in the northbound lane of the highway, ordered protesters off under threat of arrest.
Those who didn’t leave fast enough ended up in jail.
The protesters were held without bond overnight and arraigned at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Bond for the eight charged with shutting down I-75 was set at $3,000. According to Hamilton County Criminal Court documents, two of those arrested, Liz Cambron and Aalap Bommaraju, paid bail early that afternoon. But they’ll be in jail over Thanksgiving, and maybe until Monday, their attorney Joe Russell says.
Judge Melissa Powers, the presiding judge, deemed the arrested protesters flight risks and ordered they be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. But the office that provides the devices closed at noon today and won’t reopen until next week.
“I don’t undersand how my clients are flight risks,” Russell said of Cambron and Bommaraju. “They aren’t the kind of people who want to get anyone run over.” Cambron is a graduate student at University of Illinois Chicago, and Bommaraju is a health worker pursuing his PhD at UC.
He says the two weren’t acting recklessly and were merely exercising their first amendment rights.
The rest of the group arrested on I-75 look to be in a similar situation. Brandon Geary, Robert Fairbanks, Hilliard Herring, Zachary Lucas, Cerissa Newbill and Rhonda Shaw were also arrested on the highway and have been ordered to wear the tracking devices after release on bond.
Representatives with the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts said they
could not provide any information on the cases during phone calls
“The reason they’re still in jail is because the county doesn’t have the electronic monitoring devices available,” Russel said. He was in court Friday morning working to get the two released.
A vigil asking the court to release the protesters on bond drew a crowd of about 35 people Thanksgiving day, including family members of some of the protesters. "He didn't even know he wasn't going home," said Evan Geary, brother of Brandon Geary, who also posted bond. "My parents had to tell him he wasn't going home. I'm surprised my parents didn't come. They were very happy this was happening," he said of the vigil.
Both Bommaraju and Cambron, along with others who were arrested after entering I-75, are charged with disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, and inducing panic. That charge is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, but could be a fifth or fourth degree felony if a prosecutor finds that significant “economic damage” was done in the commission of the offense.
Ricky Jackson was just 20 and fresh out of the Marines when he went to jail for murder in 1975. Authorities pinned the killing of Harold Franks, a fifty nine-year-old money order clerk in Cleveland, on Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman. The conviction came on the testimony of a single twelve-year-old boy with bad eyesight and a confused story.
He spent the next 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jackson was released last Friday, the last of the trio to be freed after that witness, Eddie Vernon, admitted he made up his testimony under police pressure. Today, Jackson was in Cincinnati to thank those who worked tirelessly to help free him.
“I would have walked if it would have come to that,” Jackson said to a packed house on University of Cincinnati's campus. “I wanted to come meet the people instrumental in saving my life.”
The Ohio Innocence Project, which runs out of University of Cincinnati’s College of Law, has been working on Jackson's case since 2010, digging for years to get public records about the case. A Cleveland Scene article in 2011 focused more attention on the story as well. Since those beginnings, OIP has played a huge role in getting Jackson exonerated.
OIP was founded in 2003 to investigate and litigate cases where prisoners have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The group is made up of UC Law professors and students who use DNA evidence, new witnesses, evidence of police misconduct, and other information to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. In just over a decade, they’ve helped free 18 inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other charges. Jackson is the longest-serving inmate in Ohio to be exonerated.
Jackson’s codefendant Ronnie Bridgeman was paroled in 2010, but Jackson’s parole board continued to keep him in prison. Jackson says parole boards wanted him to admit guilt and express regret for the crime before they released him. The only problem was, he was innocent.
“I was on the cusp a lot of times,” he said of confessing. “It seemed like, to me, the only way I was going to get out was to admit guilt. But there was a lot more at stake than just me saying I committed the crime when I know I didn’t. That man’s family gets no justice, I get no justice… at the end of the day I just couldn’t lay down with that in my heart.”
He passed the time by staying fit and helping run the prison’s horticultural project. He ran a greenhouse, something he enjoyed immensely. Still, the time was wearing on him.
“After my last parole board hearing, I was really at an all time low,” he said. “I’m running out of time. I’m 57. How much time to do I really have left? I hate to use this cliché, but they came through like a knight in shining armor. When I was at my eleventh hour, didn’t know what direction I was going to take… these guys came.”
Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, says Jackson was steadfast in his innocence. He recalls first meeting Jackson at a recent hearing on his request for a new trial in light of witness Vernon recanting his testimony. Prosecutors were offering Jackson a deal — once again, if he would say he was guilty, he could walk free.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t need anymore time to think about it. I will not take that deal,' ” Godsey recalls. Prosecutors soon conceded that without their only witness, they had no case. Jackson was free.
There are challenges ahead, to be sure. He spent many of his formative years — when most people go to college, start careers, and build families — behind bars.
The OIP is stepping in again with assistance. The group has raised nearly $43,000 to help Jackson get a new start. They’re also fighting the state of Ohio to get a settlement for him based on his wrongful conviction. That could be huge — $40,000 for every year he was imprisoned, plus lost wages and other damages. But it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, prosecutors fight against these settlements. So far, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has not officially acknowledged that Jackson and the Bridgemans are innocent or that they were wrongly imprisoned.
In the meantime, Jackson says he’s not sure just yet what he’ll do. But he says he’s up for the challenge of building a life.
“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "Compared to what I just came from, this is beautiful.”
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday upheld laws banning same-sex marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.
The 2-1 decision covers six cases in those four states brought by a total of 16 couples. Among them are Cincinnati residents Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers, who are fighting so both can be listed as parents on their son’s birth certificate. James Obergefell of Cincinnati is also involved, asking courts for the right to be listed on his husband Jim Arthur’s death certificate. Earlier, a lower district court found in their favor.
“We just want to be treated as a family, because we are a family,” Henry-Rogers said in an August interview after the 6th Circuit hearings.
Justices Deborah Cook and Jeffery Sutton ruled that the debate over same-sex marriage is best decided by voters, not by the court. Justice Martha Daughtrey dissented.
“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers,” Sutton wrote in the majority opinion. “Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way."
The case is a somewhat surprising setback for same-sex marriage advocates, who had been on a winning streak in federal courts. The 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuit Courts have previously struck down laws in a number of states banning same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is now legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
"This decision is an outlier that’s incompatible with the 50 other rulings that uphold fairness for all families, as well as with the Supreme Court’s decision to let marriage equality rulings stand in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio in a statement yesterday. “It is shameful and wrong that John Arthur’s death certificate may have to be revised to list him as single and erase his husband’s name as his surviving spouse.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine represented the state in the case. His office said in a statement it was "pleased the court agreed with our arguments that important issues such
as these should be determined through the democratic process."
The decision leaves intact Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, at least for now. That’s created a split in federal court rulings among various circuit courts, something the Supreme Court will most likely have to sort out. Some legal experts think the Supreme Court will ultimately find same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The court has refused to hear appeals to lower court decisions striking down bans, leading many to think a majority of the court supports legalization.
Strangio said the ACLU will be filing for Supreme Court consideration. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represents the Ohio couples, has said he will be working to bring the case to the nation's highest court as well. Other advocacy organizations have also vowed to continue the fight.
“Now, more than ever before, the Supreme Court of the United States must take up the issue and decide once and for all whether the Constitution allows for such blatant discrimination,” said Human Rights Coalition President Chad Griffin. “We believe that justice and equality will prevail.”
A federal judge today ruled Kentucky’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. But same-sex couples in the state can’t get marriage licenses just yet.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law found in the U.S. constitution.
It's another sign that the tide may be turning in the region. The decision comes as a similar ban looks to be in serious legal trouble in Indiana, and just before an August federal court date that will decide
questions surrounding the issue in Ohio and other states. Since February last year, federal courts have upheld the right to marry for same-sex couples 19 times.
The decision came in response to a challenge to Kentucky’s ban by two same-sex couples. Maurice Blanchard and Dominique James were denied a marriage license on Jan. 2013. They were charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the Jefferson County Clerk’s office after being turned down for their license. A jury eventually found them guilty, though the two were fined only $1. The two other plaintiffs in the case, Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza, applied for a license in February 2013. The two have lived together for 34 years.
The plaintiffs and other same-sex couples looking to marry will have to wait a little longer, though. Heyburn has delayed implementation of his decision until after Aug. 6, when a higher court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will hear several gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Ohio and two other states. Those cases will be heard in Cincinnati.
Heyburn, who in February also ruled that the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, rejected Kentucky’s reasons for its ban. Lawyers hired by the Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear argued that traditional marriage helps ensure economic stability and a favorable birth rate in the state. The state’s Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend the law on behalf of the state.
“These arguments are not those of serious people,” Heyburn said in his decision. He said there is “no conceivable, legitimate purpose” for the ban, which keeps same-sex couples in the state from enjoying the economic, social and emotional benefits of marriage. These include tax benefits, the ability to share insurance, the ability to adopt children as a couple and other rights.
The ruling continues a wave of recent decisions by federal courts upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples. But there’s still uncertainty even as the tide shifts. Most recently, on June 25, a judge struck down Indiana’s ban, allowing same-sex couples to immediately apply for marriage licenses. That decision was overturned a few days later on appeal, and couples who married in the three-day window are now waiting for a final decision to see if their marriages are valid in the state’s eyes. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Now an advocacy organization is pushing for the BWC to pay back the difference.
While the ins and outs of the rates are complicated, the underlying concept is fairly straightforward: Worker’s compensation functions as a kind of insurance for employers. If an employee gets hurt on the job, worker’s comp will pay for lost wages and medical costs so long as the business is current on its monthly workers comp payment. A lawsuit brought by some employers receiving higher rates charged that those rates were unfair, even forcing some employers into bankruptcy.
The courts have agreed. The appellate court’s decision upholds an earlier ruling against the BWC by the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
The courts ruled the BWC, along with lobbyists of some favored businesses, rigged workers compensation rates so that some companies picked to be designated “group rate employers” received what the court called “excessive, undeserved premium discounts” on their workers compensation insurance plans. Where did the money for those discounts come from? According to the court, from businesses who were not part of the special group rate. Those businesses paid almost $860 million extra on their workers compensation plans.
BWC hasn’t started paying back the money, and head Steven Buehner told a Cleveland news outlet last week that the agency will appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. It has until June 30 to do so.
Buehner says the agency’s rates simply reflect the nature of providing insurance — that low-risk customers receive lower rates than higher-risk clients. Buehner said there isn’t some big pot of money somewhere that the BWC is sitting on and that it hasn’t cheated anyone out of any funds.
If the court’s ruling holds, the BWC will owe more than 100 Cincinnati-area employers $100,000 or more, including a number of nonprofits and arts organizations. All told, the BWC could owe area businesses more than $100 million. Progress Ohio, an advocacy group, has asked Gov. John Kasich to act and make sure the BWC pays the money back.
According to Progress Ohio, which is advocating for the employers in question, the BWC could owe the Cincinnati Ballet more than $300,000, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park nearly $150,000 and the Cincinnati YMCA $140,000. BAE, a British-owned security and armaments business with a plant in Fairfield, is the area employer owed the largest amount of money; according to the advocacy organization, the BWC charged BAE more than $1.4 million extra in premiums.
The Cincinnati YWCA is also owed payback — about $14,000. The organization told WCPO earlier this week it will be "thrilled" to get that money back so it can use it to help women and children in need.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled June 5 that a Butler County judge acted improperly when he sealed records relating to a 2012 rape flier posted at Miami University.
Judge Robert Lyons ordered the records sealed after a student at Miami University was charged with and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for posting a flier listing the "Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape" in a coed residence hall bathroom at the school.
When sealing the record, however, Lyons cited a law pertaining to sealing cases that don't reach a conviction, an error that he acknowledged later.
The case drew national attention, in part due to the graphic nature of the list, which included pointers like "If your [sic] afraid the girl will identify you slit her throat." It also drew scrutiny for Lyons' unusual move making the records in the case, and thus the student's name, unavailable to the public.
The Cincinnati Enquirer sued to have the records released. After the suit was filed, Lyons allowed the student to withdraw his guilty plea. The state of Ohio then dropped its case against the student, and Lyons sealed the case again under the same law he had cited previously.
Misdemeanors require a one-year waiting period before cases can be sealed. Judge Lyons argued that this isn't the case for minor misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and that no waiting period applied. In a 5-2 ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, holding that there is no such distinction.
The student left Miami shortly after the incident.
You can find the full text of the court's decision here.
A federal court in Cincinnati could get another chance to advance LGBT rights if it takes up a lawsuit filed Monday that calls on Ohio to recognize the names of married same-sex parents on their adopted children’s birth certificates.
Civil rights attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein filed the lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex couples who married outside the state and an adoption agency that helped one of the couples adopt a child in Ohio.
“Birth certificates are the primary identity document in our society,” Gerhardstein’s firm explained in a statement. “Birth certificates tell the child, ‘these adults are your parents,’ and tell the community that these adults and children are a family. Medical care, access to schools, travel and release of information are all easily accomplished with birth certificates and are constantly burdened without accurate birth certificates. Forcing families to accept incorrect birth certificates imposes life-long harms and is a direct attack on family dignity.”
Although opponents of LGBT rights contend that allowing same-sex couples to adopt could hurt children, the research suggests otherwise.
A Boston University meta-analysis released in March found “children's well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents’ sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents.” Possibly harmful factors found in the study instead include widespread discrimination and the parents’ limited rights, neither of which can be blamed on same-sex couples.
The complaint filed Monday comes on the heels of recent rulings that advanced same-sex rights in Ohio and across the country.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Dec. 23 cited constitutional grounds to force state officials to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. That case came about after a same-sex couple in Cincinnati filed for recognition. The Republican-controlled state government, defended by Attorney General Mike DeWine, is appealing the ruling.
That ruling followed a June 26 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and requires the federal government to recognize some same-sex marriages.
In enforcing the ruling, President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday plans to grant sweeping equal protections to married same-sex couples around the country, even those who reside in states where same-sex marriage remains illegal. The Justice Department’s decision applies to courthouse proceedings, prison visits and the compensation of public safety officers’ surviving spouses, among other areas.
At the state level, FreedomOhio is working to get same-sex marriage on the ballot this year. The campaign is facing some resistance from other LGBT groups, but FreedomOhio says it already has the petition signatures required to put the issue to a vote in November.
The full complaint:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald on Friday announced his new running mate: Sharen Neuhardt, a Dayton-area business attorney and twice-failed candidate for Congress. The choice boosts the ticket’s credentials with women and abortion-rights advocates, but it also reinforces support for pro-choice policies that upset many Republicans and conservatives. FitzGerald originally picked State Sen. Eric Kearney as his running mate, but Kearney dropped out of the race after multiple media reports uncovered he owed more than $800,000 in tax debt. CityBeat covered the gubernatorial race and how the economy could play into it in further detail here.
Mayor John Cranley on Friday reiterated his opposition to double dipping, even though he supports hiring an assistant city
manager who will take advantage of the practice. Because Bill Moller is a
city retiree, he will be eligible to double dip — simultaneously take a
salary ($147,000 a year) and pension — when the city hires him in
February. Cranley called the practice “abusive” on the campaign trail,
but he says it’s up to City Council to pass legislation that prevents it.
Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter on Friday pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges, including accusations of backdating court documents, theft in office and misusing her county credit card. The Ohio Supreme Court on Jan. 10 replaced Hunter until her case is decided. The felony charges are just the latest for the judge, who has been mired in controversy after controversy since before she won her election.
State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are pushing an initiative for the November ballot that would embed “voter rights” into the Ohio Constitution. The Democrat-backed constitutional amendment is in direct response to Republican-led attempts to shrink early voting periods and restrict access to the ballot.
A propane gas shortage in some parts of the state led Gov. John Kasich to suspend state and federal laws that keep propane suppliers off the roads on weekends.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s failed Senate campaign sold an SUV totaled in March — effectively averting an insurance review that might have clarified the vehicle’s use and insurance status — shortly after questions arose over the continued use of the vehicle months after Mandel’s Senate campaign ended.
Secondhand smoke increases the odds of hospital readmission for children with asthma, according to a study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital.Google’s smart contact lens could help diabetics.
The latest administrative shakeups at City Hall spurred
controversy after the city administration confirmed City Solicitor John
Curp will leave his current position and one of the new hires — Bill
Moller, a city retiree who will become assistant city manager — will be
able to “double dip” on his pension and salary ($147,000 a year). Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at today’s council meeting. The hiring decisions are up to Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles, but some council members say they should be more closely
informed and involved. (This paragraph was updated after council members called off the special session.)
Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was indicted on a ninth felony charge yesterday. The charge — for misusing her county credit card — comes on top of eight other felony counts for allegedly backdating court documents and stealing from office. In response to the first eight charges, the Ohio Supreme Court disqualified Hunter as she fights the accusations and replaced her with a formerly retired judge, who will be aided by the juvenile court’s permanent and visiting judges in addressing Hunter’s expansive backlog of cases.
A bipartisan proposal would allow Ohioans to recall any elected official in the state.Duke Energy cut a $400,000 check to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for redevelopment projects at Bond Hill, Roselawn and Queensgate.
Sixty-two people will be dropped from Hamilton County voter rolls because they didn’t respond to a letter from the board of elections challenging their voting addresses.
It’s official: Democrat Charlie Luken and Republican Ralph Winkler will face off for the Hamilton County Probate Court judgeship.
Facing state cuts to local funding, a Clermont County village annexed its way to higher revenues. But the village has drawn controversy for its tactics because it explicitly absorbed only public property, which isn’t protected from annexation under state law like private property is.
More Ohio inmates earned high school diplomas over the past three years, putting the state ahead of the national average in this area, according to a report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear says he supports legislative efforts to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years.
One Malaysian language describes odors as precisely as English describes colors.