A pending decision about whether to appeal a federal judge’s decision in a disputed election could place Hamilton County taxpayers on the hook for legal fees in the case.
The case involves which provisional ballots to count in the Juvenile Court judicial race between Democrat Tracie Hunter and Republican John Williams from the November 2010 election.
Hunter lost by just 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast. Some ballots weren’t counted, however, because although they were cast at the correct polling station, they were cast at the wrong precinct table, apparently due to poll worker error. Hunter then filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the board’s decision.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott ruled Feb. 8 that 286 provisional ballots should be counted in the race.
On Monday the Hamilton County Board of Elections split 2-2, along partisan lines, about whether to appeal Dlott’s ruling. Because there was a tie vote, the matter goes to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who likely will side with his GOP colleagues on the board and order an appeal.
Like the Republicans on the county elections board, Husted has said state law, not a federal judge, should be the final authority on which ballots are counted.
“I am concerned about the continuing involvement of the federal court in prescribing which ballots should and should not be counted in a county judicial race in Ohio,” Husted said in January 2011. “As Ohio’s chief elections officer, I maintain that it is of utmost importance that we take this stand to preserve the authority of state law to govern state elections, as interpreted by the Ohio Supreme Court.”
But the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals already has upheld a ruling by Dlott in the case once before. The appellate court ruled in January 2011 that the board should determine how many ballots were cast due to poll worker error.
The three-judge panel said not counting ballots that were miscast through no fault of the voter would be "fundamentally unfair." Still, it looks like the board will try its luck with the 6th Circuit once again.
It’s routine in cases like this for the victor — plaintiff Tracie Hunter, in this instance — to ask the court to order the defendant to pay legal costs. Although the exact amount of legal fees incurred to date wasn’t immediately available, it’s believed to be in the range of $800,000 to $1.5 million.
If an appeal is pursued, the county could be at risk of paying much more. A lengthy appeal process could easily double what’s been spent so far, legal experts said.
The expense comes at a time when Hamilton County commissioners are cutting back sheriff's patrols and other county services to avoid a deficit.
Husted’s office hasn’t yet received formal notice of the board’s tie vote, a staffer said today. When it does, a legal review will be initiated.
“We will make a decision shortly thereafter,” said spokesman Matt McClellan. “We hope to make one soon.”
Interestingly, Dlott also commented in her ruling on the apparent unconstitutionality of Ohio law.
“Ohio’s precinct-based voting system that delegates to poll workers the duty to ensure that voters are directed to the correct precinct but which provides that provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct shall not be counted under any circumstance, even where the ballot is miscast due to poll-worker error, is fundamentally unfair and abrogates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process of law,” the judge wrote.
Dlott said she was unable to order a remedy, however, because the original complaint wasn’t based on a due process claim and the plaintiff had failed to notify the Ohio Attorney General, as she were required to do if she intended to challenge the constitutionality of Ohio law.
Since then, though, the notice has been given. Conceivably, Dlott could rule on that issue in the not-too-distant future and order a remedy, namely declaring Ohio’s election laws unconstitutional and unenforceable.
More bad news for Secretary of State Jon Husted. The Ohio Supreme Court told Husted his approved ballot language for Issue 2 contains “factual inaccuracies” and must be rewritten by the Ballot Board. Voters First previously contested the language as misleading to voters. If approved by voters, Issue 2 will put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting. Under the current system, state officials redraw borders, sometimes using the process for political advantage. In Cincinnati’s district, the Republican-controlled process redrew the district to include Warren County, giving the district more rural voters that tend to side with Republicans instead of urban voters that tend to side with Democrats. Voters First mocked the process with a graph showing how redistricting decisions can sometimes be made in 13 minutes with no questions asked. CityBeat covered the redistricting process here when Issue 2 was still in the petition process.
Ohio’s median income dropped last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. But rates of poverty and uninsured rates remained the same. Nationwide, uninsured rates dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, meaning 1.4 million people gained health coverage. Some of that is attributable to health-care reform passed by President Barack Obama.Former University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams is getting a pretty nice going-away present. The Board of Trustees approved a package for Williams that adds up to more than $1.2 million. It includes a bonus, retirement benefits, consulting fees, a year’s salary and a contract buyout. Williams abruptly left UC on Aug. 21, citing personal reasons.
Homeless shelters will cost more than expected, says 3CDC. The nonprofit group said it will cost about $40 million to build three homeless shelters and help finance others.
With the support of Democrats and Republicans, the Ohio legislature approved pension reforms yesterday. The reforms lower benefits, raise contributions requirements, increase the retirement eligibility age, establish new cost-of-living guidelines and set a new formula to calculate benefits, all for future retirees. For the most part, current retirees are not affected. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said, “We know the changes are not popular, but they are necessary.” Before the changes, the system was losing $1 million a day, according to a statement from Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat.Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is pushing against banks that take advantage of college students. In a letter to Higher One, Brown told the bank to rework its contracts with universities. Brown wrote in the letter, “Federal student aid programs should help students prepare for the future, not extract fee income from them.” He went on to ask the bank to redo its contracts so they are “consumer-friendly and consistent with reforms that Congress enacted for the credit card market.”
Ohio’s inspector general found ODJFS wrongly reimbursed organizations in central Ohio with federal stimulus funds when the organizations did not follow rules.
Vice President Joe Biden was in Dayton yesterday. During his speech, he spoke about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Biden vowed justice will be served.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney unleashed a big foreign policy gaffe yesterday when he politicized the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack was revealed to cause the death of Stevens after Romney made his comments.
Math shows homeopathy, a trend in medicine, is implausible.
In his first major case while moonlighting for Stan Chesley’s law firm, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters suffered a crushing defeat earlier this month when a jury rejected a product liability claim seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages. As a result, Deters has scuttled his plans to eventually move full-time into the private sector and instead will seek reelection as prosecutor in 2012, say Republican Party sources.
A media furor has erupted over a “newly released” letter to Pope Paul VI that indicates he and the Vatican knew about child sexual abuse by priests almost 50 years ago.
News accounts report the 1963 letter was released by attorneys in California who represented sexual abuse victims in the Los Angeles Diocese. In fact, those same attorneys have previously released numerous damning documents that got little media attention until now.
For the second time in three years, a Catholic priest has been pulled from parish duties from out of state and returned to Greater Cincinnati following allegations of sexual abuse.
The Rev. Robert F. Poandl was relieved of his ministry assignment as pastor of Glenmary missions in Georgia earlier this month and ordered to return to the Glenmary Home Missioners residence in Fairfield.
The action was taken after the Rev. Chet Artysiewicz, Glenmary president, was informed of an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a minor against Poandl. The abuse allegedly occurred about 30 years ago. Poandl, who is 70, has denied the allegation but isn’t allowed to publicly function as a Catholic priest during the investigation process, Artysiewicz said.
Artysiewicz is Poandl’s direct supervisor.
Police have been notified of the anonymous allegation, as have bishops in the dioceses affected by the investigation, including the Diocese of Savannah where Poandl was serving. The chairperson of the Glenmary Review Board was notified on Feb. 11, and an internal investigation was launched to determine the allegation’s credibility.
"I am committed to maintaining accountability and transparency as this investigative process unfolds," Artysiewicz said in a prepared statement. "Father Poandl and I have both pledged our full cooperation in this investigation, and I will do whatever I can to meet the pastoral needs of all those involved."
In August 2010, just days before his trial on molestation charges in West Virginia was set to begin, all charges against Poandl were dropped. Poandl allegedly abused a boy on a trip there in 1991, when the complainant was just 10 years old. The case was dropped due to unspecified issues during the discovery process related to the boy's medical records.
The turn of events prompted the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to write to 11 bishops in dioceses where Poandl worked, asking them to use their resources to contact others who might have been sexually abused by him, but only one in Texas replied.
Besides Cincinnati, Poandl worked in Kentucky (Franklin), Louisiana (New Orleans), Pennsylvania (Mifflintown and Doylesburg), Mississippi (Aberdeen), Oklahoma (Hugo), Texas (Pittsburgh and Mount Vernon), and most recently in Georgia (Claxton, Pembroke, Sandhill, Blairsville and Dahlonega).
He is originally from Metuchen, N.J., and studied in Ohio, Indiana and Mexico.
After the most recent allegation, SNAP has urged Artysiewicz to put Poandl in a secure treatment center away from children and pro-actively seek out others who may have seen, suspected or suffered from his alleged crimes.
In other news of possible priestly misconduct, jury selection continued today in a Philadelphia case involving two priests charged with rape and a monsignor charged with protecting them.
Monsignor William Lynn lost a bid to have his case thrown out based on new evidence found in a 10th-floor safe at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. A memo turned over by the archdiocese this month states the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua ordered his top aides to shred a list of 35 accused priests still in ministry in 1994 — a decade before the child abuse scandal became widely publicized.
Lynn said he prepared the list and gave it to Bevilacqua after he became secretary for clergy in 1992 and started reviewing secret archives of priest abuse complaints. The complaints were kept in a secure room, rigged with an alarm, at the archdiocese's downtown headquarters.
The Anna Louise Inn, the city of Cincinnati and Western & Southern (W&S) met for what could be the final time in court today. For the most part, both sides took their time at the Ohio First District Court of Appeals to restate past arguments.
The three-judge panel heard 15-minute arguments by both sides. It is expected to give a final decision in 30 to 45 days.
During the hearing, W&S lawyer Francis Barrett insisted that the Anna Louise Inn meets the definition of a “special assistance shelter,”rather than “transitional housing” as it was originally classified, due to the Off the Streets program, which helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around. The difference in labels could have substantial implications for the Anna Louise Inn and whether it can go ahead with its planned $13 million renovation. However, the inn has already obtained a conditional use permit for its renovations in light of the original court decision classifying it as a special assistance shelter.
Tim Burke, lawyer for the Anna Louise Inn, rebutted by asserting that the record shows the Anna Louise Inn has never acted as a special assistance shelter. In one example, Judge Sylvia Hendon asked Burke if the Anna Louise Inn would take in a woman in the middle of the night since it is not a special assistance shelter. Burke responded by saying the Inn would turn the woman away, as required under zoning code: “She will be directed to one of the traditional homeless shelters. She is not admitted to the Anna Louise Inn. The program does not operate that way, and it never has. And the record is absolutely clear about that.”
The ongoing feud was triggered by Cincinnati Union Bethel’s (CUB) refusal to sell the Anna Louise Inn property to W&S. The company originally offered $1.8 million to buy the Anna Louise Inn in 2009. CUB declined, and it eventually obtained $12.6 million in state- and city-distributed federal funding for long-needed renovations. From that point forward, relations between CUB and W&S deteriorated, as CityBeat previously covered in detail (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers,” issue of Aug. 15)
When asked how the hearings went, Burke replied, “You never know … until you hear the decision.”
Nearly 15 months after the disputed election, a federal judge ruled today that Hamilton County elections officials must count roughly 300 provisional ballots cast in a 2010 Juvenile Court judge race.
U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott said that the Board of Elections violated the voters’ constitutional rights when it decided to count some provisional ballots but discard others based solely on the location of where they were cast.
So, just who did Jean Schmidt think was paying her mounting legal bills, anyhow?
That's the lingering question after the House Ethics Committee ruled today that Schmidt, a Republican congresswoman from Miami Township, did receive an “impermissible gift” by accepting about $500,000 in free legal help since spring 2009, but somehow didn't “knowingly” violate the law.