by Hannah McCartney
Hamilton County Municipal Court included on list of offenders
A new report from the ACLU of Ohio released today suggests that in many courts across Ohio, it's a crime just to be poor.The report, titled The Outskirts of Hope, delineates how several courts across Ohio, including Hamilton County Municipal Court, are unlawfully jailing people because they’re too impoverished to pay court fines. It’s a system called “debtors’ prisons,” a tool in which people are jailed for debts as small as a few hundred dollars, even when the offense committed could have been something as minor as allowing a dog to walk off its leash in public, according to Mike Brickner, ACLU Ohio's director of communications. “Today across Ohio, municipalities routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution,” reads the report. It’s referring to Bearden v. Georgia, the landmark Supreme Court case in which the courts ruled it was unlawful to imprison someone for failure to pay a criminal fine unless the non-payment was “willful,” also upheld in the Ohio Constitution and Ohio Revised Code. That means that if a judge is able to determined than an individual actually does have the financial resources available to pay a court fine but refuses to do so, he or she is subject to incarceration, not for actually failing to pay the fines but for willfully refusing to do so. In the case of not being able to afford the fine, the jailing is for a civil misdoing, not a criminal one, and, according to the ACLU, that’s not something that merits jail time costly to the state of Ohio. The report examined 11 different counties in Ohio and found that seven of courts in at least seven counties, including Bryan Municipal Court, Hamilton County Municipal Court, Mansfield Municipal Court, Parma Municipal Court, Sandusky Municipal Court, Springboro Mayor’s Court and Norwalk Municipal Court, were using some form of “debtors’ prison” practices by illegally jailing people for not paying fines without the judge-certified ruling that they’re financially capable of doing so. In one finding, the ACLU points out that the staff at the Norwalk Municipal Court’s Clerk of Court Office in Huron County “openly admitted that whenever court records showed a person was incarcerated for ten days on a ‘contempt’ charge, this meant he or she had most likely been jailed for failure to pay fines.”The ACLU’s investigation found that over a six-month period, 22 percent — more than one in five — of the total bookings at the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines. ACLU staff members attended multiple contempt hearings in the Norwalk Municipal Court and found a pattern for dealing with non-payment at hearings, noting that “people facing jail time were informed of the total amount owed and, without any inquiry into their financial situations, assigned arbitrary monthly payment plans. At no time were they informed of their right to counsel. The court informed them that, if they did not stay current in these payment plans, they would be required to turn themselves in to jail on a specific date several months in the future.” That’s where the vicious cycle begins; if the fines weren’t paid and the individual didn’t report to jail, he or she would be taken to jail and incarcerated for 10 days with no bond. Ten days later, they’d be released with an extra stack of fines involved in the arrest, creating more crippling debt and often causing this process to be repeated. The number of people living in poverty grew by 57.7 percent in Ohio from 1999 to 2011, according to the report — a trend mirrored across the Midwest. The ACLU calls for courts to be more transparent in communicating defendants their rights, consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and "willfulness" to pay accumulated fines and provide retroactive debt credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty. Brickner says ACLU Ohio sent a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O'Connor outlining the report, and he's hopeful the Supreme Court will issue statewide guidelines to make the laws extremely clear to judges across the state."With these 11 cases, we believe they're just the tip of the iceberg," says Brickner.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The Hamilton County Board of
Commissioners Feb. 27 unanimously approved a 40-year agreement with the
Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) that will lease
the county-owned Memorial Hall and provide renovations to the
by Andy Brownfield
Retiring sheriff will take visiting judge job in 2013
Outgoing Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis is retiring
after his current term and Jim Neil will replace him on Jan. 6, 2013,
but that doesn’t mean Leis is done with public life.
The lawman best known for the raid of the Contemporary
Arts Center over an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and
his prosecution of pornographer Larry Flynt will begin serving as a visiting judge in 2013, according to letters first published by The
Before being appointed sheriff, Leis served as a Hamilton
County Common Pleas judge from 1982 to 1987. Prior to that he was
Hamilton County prosecutor for 12 years.
The letters dated May 1, 2012 and Oct. 22, 2012 indicate
that Leis wrote Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to let
her know he was retiring and was interested in being assigned as a
Visiting judges are in charge of all of the cases other
judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets. Leis will be
paid the standard visiting judge rate of $60.68 per hour.
Since Leis last served as judge 25 years ago, O’Connor is
requiring him to shadow another judge for a day or so to get back up to
speed. Leis has kept his law license current since becoming sheriff.
by Andy Brownfield
Two-to-one vote cuts rollback in half for two years to make up stadium fund deficit
Hamilton County homeowners can expect a larger bill come
tax time. The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners on
Wednesday voted to halve the property tax rollback promised to voters as part
of the package to build the two downtown sports stadiums.
The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every
$100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an
extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.
The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which
faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise
about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.
“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced
so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same
thing we are doing today,” Portune said.
Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to
6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10
years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have
expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the
Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said
reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton
County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would
affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from
neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.
Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution
that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund
stable in years to come.
Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback
reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said
it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve
the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow
the tax increase to expire.
Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.
Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with
“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.
Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act
would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for
the rollback reduction.
Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual
review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change,
a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to
develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work
with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make
to help out with the stadium funding burden.
by German Lopez
Plan Cincinnati set for approval, Hamilton County's budget delayed, waste wells return
Plan Cincinnati is expected to be approved by City Council
Wednesday, according to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. The plan was
unanimously approved by the Livable Communities committee last night. Plan Cincinnati,
which is Cincinnati’s first comprehensive plan in 30 years, emphasizes the city’s urban center through new infrastructure, transportation
options and goals to make downtown residents stay in the area. CityBeat
previously covered the plan in greater detail here.
At the request of the sole Democrat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, a vote on the 2013 budget is being delayed by one week.
Commissioner Todd Portune asked Commission President Greg Hartmann, a
Republican, for the vote delay to address funding to juvenile courts and
plans for future financial stability. Hartmann agreed to the delay,
noting consensus is important for budget issues. The budget won’t raise
taxes, but it could put 150 Hamilton County employees out of jobs.
Wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of fluids used during the fracking process, will soon be popping up around Ohio again.
The wells are the first to get state approval since earthquakes around
Youngstown in December were blamed on nearby wastewater injection wells.
It’s clear little — not even earthquakes — will stop Ohio’s fracking
boom, but at what cost? It is generally accepted switching from coal to
natural gas would bring down pollution that causes global warming, but some findings from Australia suggest problems still lay ahead. One study
found an abnormal amount of greenhouse gases around an Australian
fracking site. Methane leakage in particular is a problem at natural gas
sites because over 100 years methane is 25 times more effective at
trapping heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change.
Cincinnati home sales shot up in October,
according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The report paints a
great picture for the city’s housing economy. Housing was one of the biggest sectors hit by the financial
crisis of 2007-2008, so a recovery in housing is a sign the economic downturn
could soon be a thing of the past.
University of Cincinnati researchers want to know if testing emergency-room patients for HIV makes sense.
ER doctors worry about longer wait times, disrupted operations and
possible interference with emergency services, but the health benefits
could outweigh the negatives.
FirstGroup America is looking into moving from its Cincinnati headquarters. The company originally got a million-dollar tax incentive from the city for moving to downtown.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich hopes his rejection of Obamacare’s health exchanges will ignite some re-election fundraising.
Kasich is up for re-election in 2014. Exchanges are subsidized, heavily
regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of
Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more
transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace.
With Kasich’s rejection, the federal government will manage Ohio’s
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted finally had a good day
in court on Saturday. In a reversal from the lower court’s ruling, the
Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said ballots without proper
identification should not be counted. It’s estimated that, at most, the ruling will affect about 2,000 votes.
A Dayton man allegedly robbed the same bank twice.
Behold, the greatest thing the internet has ever created: The Spice Kittens livestream.With a nose cell transplant, paralyzed dogs are walking again.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 20, 2012
A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget
is being delayed a week after Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board
President Greg Hartmann at a Nov. 19 staff meeting to push back the vote
to address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future
1 Comment · Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Oil giant BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in for the 2010
Deepwater Horizon oil spill — the largest criminal penalty in U.S.
history. WORLD -2
by Andy Brownfield
Proposed 'austere' budget would cut $14.4M from 2012 levels
A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget is being delayed
a week at the request of the sole Democrat on the Board of County
Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board President Greg
Hartmann at a Monday staff meeting to push back the vote a week to
address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future
Hartmann, who earlier denied Portune’s request to issue
securities to raise millions to balance the budget, agreed. He said it
was important that all three commissioners agree on the budget.
Portune told reporters he wanted to see more funding for
juvenile courts. The proposed budget would cut about $3 million from the
juvenile court’s 2012 appropriation.
He said he also wants to see specific plans on how and
where the county will invest in economic development. He and Hartmann
disagree about whether that kind of planning belongs in a budget.
Hartmann had the proposal developed after commissioners rejected three plans from County Administrator Christian Sigman, two of which would have raised taxes. The $192 million budget under consideration cuts about $14 million from the 2012 appropriation levels without raising taxes.
The proposed budget makes a number of what Hartman calls “modest cuts” in almost every county department.
All three commissioners have stated that public safety
funding is a priority. The Sheriff’s Department would see a small
reduction of $27,033, bringing its budget to almost $57.5 million.
However, the department would also face an additional $4.3
million in expenses next year, giving incoming Sheriff Jim Neil an
effectively reduced budget.
The Emergency Management Agency would get a nearly 40 percent increase in the proposed budget, up to $400,000.
The Board of Elections would see its budget slashed 36.2
percent to $6.9 million. However, its expenses would also be lower in
2013 because there is no presidential election as there was in 2012.
The proposed budget would bring the Department of Job and
Family Services’ appropriation to $832,900 — a reduction of $10,360.
However, that funding level is dictated by the State of Ohio and not the
The Hamilton County Prosecutor would also see a small
increase of $37,597 intended to hold level its funding from 2012, as the
department went over-budget. The prosecutor has the ability to sue the
county over its budget appropriation, so the department typically
maintains level funding.
by Andy Brownfield
Posted In: 2012 Election
, County Commission
, Financial Crisis
, Mitt Romney
at 03:53 PM | Permalink
"Austerity budget" rejects tax increases
The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board
outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an
austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some
Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said
his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30
percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to
approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said.
He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.
Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000 or
0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3
percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5
percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the
Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.
Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public
safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic
development is not possible without it.
Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.
Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.
Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he
supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own
budget proposal as well.
“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is
working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the
Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by
the following week.
He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.
“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the
budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for
county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different
visions in terms of solutions.”
Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is
running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major
Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s
waiting for the election results.
“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the
economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking
that’s what you were going to go with.”
by German Lopez
State data glitch causes late delivery of 33,000 updated registration records
An error in how voters update their address online caused
updated registration records to be delivered late to Ohio’s election
officials. With about a week left in Ohio’s voting process, the late delivery might have caused the Hamilton County Board of
Elections to mistakenly reject some eligible voters because officials did not
have the voters’ current addresses. Amy Searcy, director of elections
at the board, says it’s unclear how many registered voters were
affected, but 2,129 updated registration records were sent from Ohio Secretary of State John Husted’s
office. She says the number could end up varying since some of the
records are duplicates.
Across the state, an unknown number of ballots were
mistakenly rejected as 33,000 registration records were sent late on
Monday and Tuesday. Cleveland's The Plain Dealer reported 71 voters were mistakenly rejected in Cuyahoga County.
Matt McClellan, Husted’s spokesperson, said Husted’s
offices were previously unaware of the data, which is why it wasn’t
requested before the glitch was detected by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).
The glitch caused the BMV to not properly send online address changes to Husted’s office, says Joe Andrews, communications
director at the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which oversees the BMV. He
added, “As soon as we discovered it, we fixed it. And I think that, in
cooperation with the secretary of state’s office, the problem has been
In a directive detailing the delay, Husted touted the benefits of the catch.
“While the timing is unfortunate, we are extremely pleased
that the data from this new system can be sent electronically and will
require minimal data entry,” he wrote. “Additionally, the new system has
the potential to help reduce provisional ballots significantly.”
Outdated registration records are one of the major reasons
voters cast provisional ballots, which are ballots given to voters
whose eligibility is unclear. In 2008, nearly 205,000 provisional
ballots were cast and about 40,000 — about 20 percent — were rejected for varying reasons. Recently, a federal judge blocked an
Ohio law that led to 14,000 of those rejections. Husted followed up that
ruling with an appeal and a request for an emergency stay.Tim Burke, chairman of the county Board of Elections and county Democratic Party, expressed mixed feelings about the caught error.“Obviously, you hate like hell to have the secretary of
state’s office, which had promised to have a very efficient election,
popping something like that on us seven days out,” he says. “Having said
that, I’m glad at least once they recognized that these names are out
there they moved to get them to us so that we can do our best to ensure
that these folks are not disenfranchised because of some administrative
glitch.”He says the board will contact any mistakenly rejected voters.