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.
Everyone in the media — and indeed everyone who cares about the First Amendment — is mourning the loss of Dick Goehler, a leading attorney at Cincinnati's Frost Brown Todd law firm who passed away yesterday after battling leukemia. Dick's practice focused on media law and represented media clients in all aspects of First Amendment and newsroom-related matters, including CityBeat.
Between tweeting happily about U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s death and gloating over Cincinnati losing out on federal funding for its proposed streetcar project, an anti-tax group has also posted on its blog about something more substantive: A legal victory against an Ohio law it said was unconstitutional.
It’s a tumultuous time in Greater Cincinnati’s media scene. In addition to The Enquirer’s ongoing staff shakeups, troubles abound at Clear Channel Communications and at the firm that owns Cincinnati Magazine.
This all occurs just a month after the recent sale of CityBeat to Nashville-based SouthComm, Inc.
Clear Channel, which owns the most radio stations in the local market, laid off several employees last week.
Among the people who were let go were Tony Bender, the program director for WKRC (550 AM) and WCKY (1530 AM); Sherry Rowland, promotions director for WLW (700 AM); Mark Bianchi, digital sales manager; and traffic reporter Brian Pitts. The staffers reportedly were laid off due to budget cuts.
Based in San Antonio, Texas, Clear Channel owns 850 radio stations across the United States, making it the nation’s largest radio station group owner both by stations and revenue. Locally, the media giant owns the previously mentioned WKRC, WCKY and WLW, along with WEBN (102.7 FM), WKFS (107.1 FM) and WSAI (1360 AM).
If you're in the media and need a job, you might want to consider applying to become The Enquirer's new sports editor. The last editor, Barry Forbis, recently quit to work for Fox Sports in Los Angeles. Here are the requirements for the job.
Meanwhile, Emmis Communications Corp. — which owns Cincinnati Magazine — is struggling to keep its stock listed on the NASDAQ exchange while the firm’s owner is being roundly criticized for asking an Indiana court to approve a plan to vote so-called “dead shares” of the company.
Indianapolis-based Emmis is seeking to vote the shares of preferred stock that the company had bought from shareholders at a sizeable discount. Typically, such shares are considered “extinguished” and no longer viable under tax and accounting rules. But Emmis executives said the shares weren’t actually bought, they merely were part of a “total return swap.”
If a judge agrees, Emmis will be able to vote those shares and convert its remaining preferred stock into common stock, so it doesn’t have to ante up the cash for unpaid dividends.
To deal with its financial problems, Emmis has borrowed a total of $31.9 million from controversial businessman Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, to help keep the firm afloat.
Besides Cincinnati Magazine, Emmis owns similar publications in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and elsewhere. Also, it owns radio stations in New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Terre Haute, Ind., as well as in Bulgaria and Slovakia.
A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge has denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser's request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages.
In an article published in the Advertiser on May 27, 2010 titled "Cop's suspension called best move for city," the paper implicated Miami Township police officer James Young, who years before had been mired in legal trouble for accusations of sexual assault that were eventually disproven, in its article discussing another sex scandal in the area.
According to court documents, in 1997, Young was initially fired from his job after a woman named Marcie Phillips accused Young of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while Young was on duty. An internal investigation revealed that the two had actually been engaged in a relationship prior and that Young had spent time at Phillips' house while on duty. The allegations, however, were entangled in questions about Phillips' character and concern that she could have been lying about the rape because the relationship between the two had recently ended on rocky terms.
When DNA testing on semen found on a rug in the woman's home proved that the DNA didn't match Young's, he was exonerated and reinstated to his position.
The Advertiser article explained that Young had been terminated for sexual harassment, immoral behavior, gross misconduct and neglect in the line of duty and also stated that "Young had sex with a woman while on the job," which formed the basis for Young's defamation suit.
The 2010 article dealt with similar accusations lodged against Milford Police Officer Russell Kenney, who pleaded guilty to charges that he'd been having sex with Milford Mayor Amy Brewer while he was on duty on multiple occasions.
Kenney was suspended from his position for 15 days, but was later reinstated even though Milford's police chief planned to recommend his termination to avoid having to use an arbitrator to dissect the case.
Although the article is attributed to writer Kellie Giest, the lawsuit revealed that the paper's editor at the time, Theresa Herron, inserted the section of the article that went to trial. According to court documents, Herron added the paragraphs about Young to Giest's story because she felt the article needed more context about why the city wanted to avoid arbitration.
According to court documents from the suit Young filed against the Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gannett responded the to initial complaint by acknowledging that the statement was a defamation of character, but that the statement was made without actual malice on the part of Herron. There is a high legal threshold for plaintiffs to establish a defamation claim, which require the plaintiff to prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt; for public officials, the threshold is even higher because they most prove that the offender acted with actual malice — in this case, knowing the claim about Young was false and printing it anyway — to win a lawsuit.
In its appeal, Gannett argued that Young, as a police officer, did not meet the threshold of a public official required to successfully establish a defamation claim and that Herron's inclusions were based on rational interpretations of documents on the case — even though Young denied having sex with plaintiff Marcie Phillips, he admitted the two had kissed and the arbitrator's report documented one instance in which Young was at Phillips' house while on duty.
In the court's opinion denying Gannett's appeal, Judge John Rogers writes that Herron admitted she had read the arbitrator's report from Young's case, which provided no evidence that Young and Phillips ever actually had sex at all.
"There was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Herron was well aware that the statement she added to the article was probably false," it reads. "Herron was also reckless in failing to conduct any investigation beyond the records of the original case. She did not seek out Young for comment, nor did she talk to anyone involved in his case."
The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday expedited the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s challenge against the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which Republican Gov. John Kasich pushed through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, despite resistance from the Ohio legislature.
The case will decide whether Kasich was constitutionally allowed to bypass the legislature to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The 1851 Center says the Controlling Board isn’t allowed to go against the will of the legislature. The Kasich administration argues the Controlling Board can unilaterally accept federal funds.
With the case now expedited, both sides will submit their arguments on the merits of the case to the state’s highest court by Dec. 1.
Kasich tried for most of 2013 to get the expansion approved by the Ohio House and Senate, but he couldn’t convince Republican legislators, who control both chambers, to approve the plan.
But instead of accepting defeat, Kasich asked the Controlling Board to take up federal funds for the expansion. The board approved the funds on Oct. 21.
The legal complaint was filed on Oct. 22 on behalf of Republican State Reps. Matt Lynch, Ron Young, Andy Thompson, Ron Maag, John Becker and Ron Hood, Cleveland Right to Life and Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati.
Kasich, in a rare alliance with Democrats, says the Medicaid expansion is necessary to insure more low-income Ohioans and obtain federal Obamacare dollars that would go to other states if Ohio declined the expansion.
But Republican legislators say they’re concerned about the government’s involvement in the health care system and whether the federal government can afford to pay for the Medicaid expansion.
Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand Medicaid eligibility to reach anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. If states accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through fiscal year 2016 then gradually phase down its payments to 90 percent of the expansion. In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in fiscal year 2013.
The expansion would fill a so-called “coverage gap” under Obamacare and Ohio law. Without it, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level won’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If the expansion is approved beyond that, HPIO says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
If the Ohio Supreme Court upholds the Controlling Board’s decision, the Medicaid expansion will go into effect in 2014 and cost the federal government nearly $2.6 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.
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.”
In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward.
But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget for the next two years.
But critics, including those who led the referendum efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’ operation hours, will hurt downtown business.
In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of today’s ruling are exhausted or called off.
“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.
Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the budget and other projects.
“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he says.
But first, the city must follow through with legal
processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking
plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.
Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.
But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.
At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.
In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill for our kids to pay.”
Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.
“My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.
Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on “long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.
The ruling also allows the city to once again use emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.
Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the parking plan.
“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”
Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the ruling.
“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and, therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker wrote in his dissent.
The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox, Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and enforcement.
The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and pursue major development projects downtown.
Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.
City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.
Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.
“We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. “If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward.”
CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.
Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.
Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ statement.
Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.
Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.