A review of the fine print in Ohio law could spell trouble for Duke Energy in its dispute with Cincinnati about who must pay to move utility lines to accommodate the city’s streetcar project.
Readers of CityBeat’s March 6 cover story know that one of the legal arguments made by Duke Energy is that it said the system qualifies as a utility itself under Ohio law. And one utility has no legal obligation to reimburse another utility, Duke added.
City officials disagree with Duke’s interpretation, and the two sides currently are trying to negotiate a compromise to the impasse.
The city is willing to pay $6 million to relocate Duke’s natural gas, chilled water, fiber and electrical infrastructure along the streetcar route, but the firm insists it will cost at least $18.7 million and possibly more.
A close reading of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), however, reveals it is unlikely that a streetcar system qualifies as a “public utility.”
Under Ohio law, the following items are defined as public utilities:
“A motor transportation company, when engaged in the business of carrying and transporting persons or property or the business of providing or furnishing such transportation service, for hire, in or by motor-propelled vehicles of any kind, including trailers, for the public in general, over any public street, road, or highway in this state.” ORC §4905.03
But motor-propelled vehicles aren’t defined under Ohio law. The ORC does, however, define “motor vehicle” as:
“(B) “Motor vehicle” means any vehicle, including mobile homes and recreational vehicles, that is propelled or drawn by power other
than muscular power or power collected from overhead electric trolley wires.
“Motor vehicle” does not include utility vehicles as defined in division (VV)
of this section, motorized bicycles, road rollers, traction engines, power
shovels, power cranes, and other equipment used in construction work and not
designed for or employed in general highway transportation, well-drilling
machinery, ditch-digging machinery, farm machinery, and trailers that are
designed and used exclusively to transport a boat between a place of storage
and a marina, or in and around a marina, when drawn or towed on a public road
or highway for a distance of no more than ten miles and at a speed of
twenty-five miles per hour or less.” ORC
“(B) “Motor vehicle” means any vehicle, including mobile homes and recreational vehicles, that is propelled or drawn by power other than muscular power or power collected from overhead electric trolley wires. “Motor vehicle” does not include utility vehicles as defined in division (VV) of this section, motorized bicycles, road rollers, traction engines, power shovels, power cranes, and other equipment used in construction work and not designed for or employed in general highway transportation, well-drilling machinery, ditch-digging machinery, farm machinery, and trailers that are designed and used exclusively to transport a boat between a place of storage and a marina, or in and around a marina, when drawn or towed on a public road or highway for a distance of no more than ten miles and at a speed of twenty-five miles per hour or less.” ORC §4501.01(B)
Streetcars operate using overhead trolley wires, thus they aren’t considered motor vehicles under Ohio law. But do they even qualify as vehicles? The ORC defines vehicles as:
“(A) “Vehicles” means everything on wheels or runners, including motorized bicycles, but does not mean electric personal assistive mobility devices, vehicles that are operated exclusively on rails or tracks or from overhead electric trolley wires, and vehicles that belong to any police department, municipal fire department, or volunteer fire department, or that are used by such a department in the discharge of its functions.” ORC §4501.01(A)
Of course, streetcars run on rails and use power from electric
trolley wires. So, they aren’t vehicles either. The conclusion: Either “motor-propelled vehicles” mean the same as “motor
vehicles” (in which case it doesn’t apply to streetcars) or “motor-propelled”
is an adjective to “vehicle” (which also doesn’t apply, as streetcars aren’t
vehicles). In each instance, a streetcar system doesn’t fall into the legal realm of a “motor transportation company” and therefore isn’t a “public utility.”
Of course, streetcars run on rails and use power from electric trolley wires. So, they aren’t vehicles either.
The conclusion: Either “motor-propelled vehicles” mean the same as “motor vehicles” (in which case it doesn’t apply to streetcars) or “motor-propelled” is an adjective to “vehicle” (which also doesn’t apply, as streetcars aren’t vehicles).
In each instance, a streetcar system doesn’t fall into the legal realm of a “motor transportation company” and therefore isn’t a “public utility.”
A judicial conduct panel ruled this week that the primary election opponent of a local Municipal Court judge knowingly misrepresented himself in campaign materials.
The panel decided that retired appellate court judge William O’Neill from Cleveland left the impression that he is a current judge in a two-sided campaign card he distributed. In fact, O’Neill now works as an emergency room nurse at a hospital.
O’Neill and Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker are vying to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court.
Whoever wins the March 6 primary election will face off against incumbent Justice Robert Cupp, a Republican, in the November general election.
The three-judge panel upheld the complaint filed by Richard Dove, secretary of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. The panel said O’Neill’s campaign card refers to him nine times as “judge,’’ while describing him as “former court of appeals judge’’ once.
“The fact that he is known as judge because of his tenure on the 11th District Court of Appeals and that as a retired judge he is known as a judge, he nevertheless as a judicial candidate is prohibited from using the term ‘judge’ before his name in campaign materials since he does not currently hold that office,’’ wrote Guernsey County Common Pleas Judge David Ellwood, who chaired the three-judge panel.
The panel recommended no discipline for O’Neill other than he stop distributing the card. A 5th District Court of Appeals judge must appoint a panel of five fellow appellate judges within the next week to consider the lower panel’s recommendations and make a final decision.
Rucker is the Ohio Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, but O’Neil has twice before — in different races — had party leaders rescind an endorsement and give it to him.
O’Neill has run twice for the state Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2006 — and then Congress in 2008 and 2010. Although he has won in the primaries, O’Neill has lost in the general elections.
Local Democratic Party leaders are criticizing O’Neill, stating he is moving too slowly to remove misleading material from his campaign website.
“While Mr. O’Neill promised Monday to make the required corrections, as of this writing on Wednesday, Feb. 29, his website remains unchanged,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke wrote in a statement issued Wednesday night.
“This is not the kind of conduct we as Democrats should condone by any of our candidates, especially candidates running for a seat on the highest court of our state,” Burke added. “Ohioans deserve a Supreme Court candidate who not only understands the law, but respects it as well.”
For more on the O’Neill/Rucker race, see this week’s issue of CityBeat.
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.
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.
A prominent Republican congressman is under investigation for insider trading. U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee, is being probed by the Office of Congressional Ethics for making suspicious trades and buying certain stock options while helping oversee the nation’s banking and financial services industries.