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by Hannah McCartney 07.19.2012
Posted In: Death Penalty, Courts, Equality at 01:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 German Lopez 10.02.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, Courts, News at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
William O'Neill

Candidate to Justices: “Recuse or Refuse”

Former judge demands Ohio Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from FirstEnergy case

In a letter sent today to Ohio Supreme Court justices Robert Cupp and Terrence O’Donnell, former Judge William O’Neill asked the Republican justices to recuse themselves from a case presenting conflicts of interest or refuse the campaign money that caused the conflicts of interest to begin with.

“The First Energy Family has contributed more than $44,000.00 into re-election campaigns for Justices Cupp and O’Donnell this year alone,” O’Neill, a Democrat who is running for the Ohio Supreme Court, wrote. “It is simply wrong for them to continue sitting on First Energy cases.”

The Ohio Supreme Court, which has seven justices decide the state’s top judicial cases, is currently handling a case involving FirstEnergy, an energy company based in Akron. More than 300,000 customers are suing the company over alleged fraud. The 11th District Court of Appeals previously ruled against FirstEnergy, and the case was appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The lawsuit is the fifth Ohio Supreme Court case involving FirstEnergy this year.

O’Neill pointed out the lawsuit “could easily be a billion dollar case” before writing, “And the public has a right to know that the ruling was not purchased by one side or another.”

Ohio Sen. Mike Skindell, a Democrat who is also running for the Ohio Supreme Court, endorsed O’Neill’s letter. In the past, he also criticized Cupp and O’Donnell for potential conflicts of interest.

The offices of Cupp and O'Donnell did not immediately respond to CityBeat's requests for comment on the letter. This story will be updated if responses become available.

UPDATE OCT. 4, 4:12 P.M.: Mark Weaver, spokesperson for Cupp, responded: Mr. O'Neill previously raised this argument with disciplinary authorities by filing a complaint. It was reviewed by disciplinary authorities, and they unanimously dismissed it as having no merit.

by Kevin Osborne 02.17.2012
Posted In: 2010 Election, Courts, Democrats, Republicans at 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Appeal in Elections Case Could Be Costly

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.

by German Lopez 09.13.2012
Posted In: Government, News, 2012 Election, Courts, Economy at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

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.

by 05.29.2009
Posted In: Courts, 2012 Election at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Defeat Means Deters Will Run Again

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.

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by Kevin Osborne 02.27.2012
Posted In: Courts, Religion, Ethics at 05:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Priest Returns to Cincinnati Amid Allegations

The Rev. Robert F. Poandl will stay at missioners residence in Fairfield during investigation

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.

by 04.01.2010
Posted In: News, Courts, Religion at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ex-Priest: Vatican Knew of Abuse in '40s

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.

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by Nick Swartsell 11.26.2014
Posted In: News, Courts at 09:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Update: Protest Marchers Released on Bail

Some of the 15 protesters arrested during Tuesday's Ferguson solidarity rally were held after posting bail

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 earlier today.

Russell says it’s not necessarily the judge’s fault the situation has happened. Others, however, feel like the delay was meant to send a message to future protesters.

“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 held Nov. 27 for protesters arrested during a Ferguson solidarity march still in jail after posting bond
Nick Swartsell

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. 

Nick Swartsell

 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.

by German Lopez 01.24.2013
Posted In: Budget, Courts, News at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

City Negotiating Settlement Over Pension-Funding Lawsuit

April deadline to settle with AFSCME over accusations of underfunding

The city of Cincinnati and a union representing city workers are currently negotiating an out-of-court settlement for a lawsuit involving the city's pension program.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) claimed in a 2011 lawsuit that the city government isn’t meeting funding requirements. A Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas motion filed Jan. 4 and accepted Jan. 23 gives the city and AFSCME until April to settle the case out of court.

By law, Cincinnati is required to heed to the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS) Board of Trustees when setting the percent of payroll the city must contribute to retirees. But the AFSCME lawsuit argues the city hasn’t been making contributions dictated by the board.

The lawsuit, which dates back to June 2011, cites minutes from a CRS Board of Trustees meeting on July 20, 2010 to show the board accepted a report from Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC. The report asked the city to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to retiree benefits — 12.32 percent to retiree health benefits and 33.9 percent to other CRS benefits — during the 2011 fiscal year.

Instead, the city biennial budget for 2011 and 2012 established a contribution rate of 17 percent — way below the recommended sum.

The AFSCME lawsuit alleges the low contributions reflect a “longstanding pattern” from city government. It points to a 2002 report from the CRS Board of Trustees that found the city was not meeting requirements set by the board then, either.

The lawsuit asks for a court mandate requiring city government to find out how much it needs to contribute, establish a mechanism for collecting the amounts required and appropriate and contribute the required amounts.

City Solicitor John Curp says the debate is between long-term and short-term interests. On AFSCME’s side, the union wants to get as much from payroll contributions as possible for represented retirees, even if it means a short-term economic and budget shock for the city. On the city’s side, City Council is more interested in meeting long-term requirements for the pension fund, instead of keeping up with shifting annual numbers that could negatively impact the city economy and budget.

City government’s approach attempts to balance short-term and long-term needs with a long-term goal. It means the city pension is underfunded during some years, particularly when the economy is in a bad state. But it keeps rates steady, letting the city avoid sudden funding changes that would require spending cuts or tax hikes to keep the budget balanced.

By adopting a large short-term contribution rate, the city would likely hurt its budget in ways that would negatively affect city employees represented by AFSCME. If the city was forced to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to CRS — up from 17 percent — it would probably be forced to cut spending elsewhere, which would lead to layoffs.

This story was updated on Jan. 25 at 12:40 p.m. to reflect comments from City Solicitor John Curp.

by 08.20.2009
Posted In: Business, News, Courts at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cintas Will Pay $22M to Settle Lawsuit

After a six-year legal battle, Cintas Corp. has agreed to an arbitrator’s recommendation and will pay more than $22.75 million to settle a federal lawsuit about overtime pay for uniform delivery drivers.

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