Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Ten Cases Slated for February Court Session

Image of the snow-covered, giant gavel in the south plaza of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

The Ohio Supreme Court will be in open session in Columbus for three days of oral arguments next week.

Image of the snow-covered, giant gavel in the south plaza of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

The Ohio Supreme Court will be in open session in Columbus for three days of oral arguments next week.

Oral arguments at the Ohio Supreme Court next week will span three days and feature 10 cases. Among the cases are an appeal from the only woman on death row and one arising from the testing of a rape kit decades after the alleged crime.

Rape-Kit Testing Delay Results in Case Before Court
In 2012, Darlell Orr was arrested for murder, and his DNA was linked to a 1993 rape reported by a 14-year-old girl. She had gone to a hospital, where staff collected evidence for a rape kit. However, the kit wasn’t analyzed until the state launched an initiative in 2011 to conduct forensic testing on nearly 14,000 rape kits that had been left untested for decades.

Orr was 13 years old at the time of the alleged rape. He was indicted in 2013, but the trial court dismissed his case. It concluded it had no jurisdiction to conduct the trial because cases involving 13-year-olds in 1993 had to be heard in juvenile, not adult, court. The juvenile court couldn’t consider the case either, the court determined, given that Orr was now in his 30s. (Orr is currently in prison for a separate crime.)

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor argues in State v. Orr that 1997 changes in state law bar juvenile courts from hearing a case when an adult older than 21 is arrested for a crime alleged to have taken place when he or she was a juvenile. Such cases must be criminally prosecuted instead in common pleas court, the prosecutor notes. Orr contends the law is unconstitutionally retroactive when applied to him because the alleged rape happened in 1993, before the law was enacted. He also argues he would be subjected to a greater punishment, such as prison, now than when he was a juvenile, if found guilty.

Woman on Death Row Submits Third Appeal
Donna Roberts appeals her death sentence to the Ohio Supreme Court for the third time. Roberts was convicted in 2001 for the murder of her ex-husband, Robert Fingerhut, in Trumbull County. A jury found that she planned the murder with Nathaniel Jackson, with whom she was having an affair.

The Supreme Court returned Roberts’ case to the trial court for a second time in 2013 for resentencing. The Court concluded that the trial court hadn’t considered potentially mitigating information Roberts gave at her first resentencing hearing. The Court ordered the trial court to consider the entire record, including Roberts’ allocution made during the resentencing hearing, when deciding again whether the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.

A new judge conducted the resentencing because the judge who originally heard Roberts’ case had died. The new judge determined that death was the appropriate penalty in the case. In her appeal, State v. Roberts, she maintains that the new judge couldn’t properly consider all the evidence in the case because he wasn’t present for any of her trial and didn’t hear her statement firsthand. She asks the Court to impose a life sentence.

Oral Arguments
The Court will hear arguments on Tuesday, Feb. 7; Wednesday, Feb. 8; and Thursday, Feb. 9. Arguments will begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus, and will be streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Previews Available
Along with the descriptions in this article, the Office of Public Information today released in-depth previews of the 10 cases.

Tuesday, February 7
The Court will begin with Roberts and also will consider the two cases below.

A sergeant in the Findlay Police Department was subject to discipline after referring to an officer as “Whoregan” in 2012. The sergeant appealed his firing, which was based on the discipline matrix in the city’s policies for the department. An arbitration found that severe discipline was warranted but firing wasn’t, and he reinstated the sergeant. The dispute in Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn. v. Findlay centers on whether the arbitrator had authority to impose a punishment that wasn’t specified in the discipline matrix.

The Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness recommends that a Chagrin Falls lawyer’s right to practice law be revoked and that he not be permitted to reapply for admission in Ohio. The board in In re: Application of Michael A. Callam initiated an investigation after the man was indicted in April 2015 for insurance-related crimes, and questions were raised about whether he fully disclosed material to the board before he was permitted to take the July 2014 bar exam.

Wednesday, February 8
These four cases will be heard on Wednesday:

A Columbus juvenile was charged with 13 delinquency counts that stemmed from a robbery and shooting spree. About a month before the crimes, the boy’s father died. Though his mother attended all his juvenile court proceedings, she died before an amenability hearing that would determine if his case would remain in juvenile court or be sent to adult court. The juvenile had an attorney, but he didn’t have a parent, guardian, or legal custodian present. In State v. Morgan, the juvenile argues his rights were violated when the juvenile court failed to follow a state law requiring a guardian ad litem be appointed to represent his interests.

A group of residents near the site of proposed 54-turbine wind farm in Champaign County oppose the Ohio Power Siting Board’s extension of the construction certificate that originally required a company to begin building by 2015. In the Matter of the Application of Buckeye Wind LLC concerns the board granting a three-year extension by approving a motion filed by the company. The citizen group argues the law only allows such a change through an application for an amendment – a process that triggers a staff investigation. The board maintains such a review process isn’t required for a time extension.

A doctor moved to Hamilton County to take over a local doctor’s practice. The local doctor ran his practice jointly with a medical firm that specialized in conducting cholesterol drug clinical trials. The new doctor told the staff that she believed the retiring physician’s prescription-writing practices constituted insurance fraud and that patient charts were handled in a way that violated federal patient privacy laws. When the retiring doctor found out, he ousted the new doctor from the practice and convinced the medical firm to terminate her. In McGowan v. Medpace, the Court will consider if firing the doctor violated the doctrine of wrongful termination against public policy because she reported illegal acts.

The Board of Professional Conduct recommends a six-month stayed suspension for a Geneva attorney whose business cards and sign in front of his office building indicated his law firm name was “O’Neill & Brown Law Office,” referencing a partnership with an Ohio Supreme Court justice. In Ashtabula County Bar Assn. v. Brown, the bar association contends that the sign still showed “O’Neill & Brown Law Office” and the lawyer handed out a business cards with the improper name after he said he had addressed the misconduct. The association argues for an indefinite suspension.

Thursday, February 9
The Court will consider three appeals, including Orr, on Thursday.

A Hamilton County man was charged with breaking into a home and stealing a purse. Prosecutors offered him a plea agreement where he would serve three years in prison. A judge warned him that if he didn’t take the plea, he could face more time if found guilty. The man refused the plea, was found guilty, and the judge told him, “You gambled, you lost.” He was sentenced to six years in prison. In State v. Rahab, the Court will decide whether the judge’s sentence was an act of vindictive retaliation that violated the man’s constitutional rights.

A Muskingum County man was sentenced to prison for two felonies and also placed on three years of postrelease control (PRC). He was warned at his sentencing hearing that a PRC violation could lead to serving additional time in prison. However, his sentencing entry in court records didn’t specifically state the consequences. The man was convicted of a crime while on PRC and ordered to serve a sentence for the new crime, plus nearly two more years for the PRC violation. In State v. Grimes, the Court considers if failing to place the warning in the sentencing entry voided the PRC-violation sentence.

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