Daily Court Reporter - Supreme Court of Ohio considers father’s attempt to seek records in adult son’s sex-offense case involving student
Supreme Court of Ohio considers father’s attempt to seek records in adult son’s sex-offense case involving student
Kathleen Maloney, Supreme Court of Ohio
The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 8th, heard four oral arguments, including one asking if a father of a Mercer County high school teacher convicted of sexual battery was wrongly denied access to records related to his son’s prosecution.
The session started at 9 a.m. with the cases being heard at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. All arguments are streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live and archived on The Ohio Channel.
Brief summaries of the cases are available below:
Charles A. Summers v. Matthew Fox, prosecuting attorney, Mercer County, and Jeff Grey, sheriff, Mercer County, Case No. 2018-0959
Writ of Mandamus
Can a public official base a refusal to produce public records on the requestor’s intended use?
Does a familial relationship between a public records requestor and an incarcerated individual create a presumption that the requestor is acting as the inmate’s designee, subjecting the request to R.C. 149.43(B)(8)?
Do exceptions in R.C. 149.43, Ohio’s Public Record Act, for confidential law enforcement investigatory techniques, confidential law enforcement work product, and trial preparation records apply in this case?
Is a crime victim’s right to prevent the disclosure of public records limited to the exceptions in the Ohio Public Record Act?
Charles Summers’ son, Christopher Summers, was a teacher and athletics coach at Fort Recovery High School in Mercer County. He was indicted on charges related to a 26-month sexual relationship he had with a student. The 2013 indictment included 47 counts, including rape, sexual battery, felonious assault, and other sex offenses. The student, identified as J.K., had classes with Christopher Summers and played sports on teams he coached. Their relationship began the summer between her sophomore and junior years.
Before the trial, the Mercer County prosecutors dropped the two rape counts. The victim testified at the trial. Before she completed her testimony, the teacher entered into a plea agreement with the prosecutors, agreeing to plead guilty to eight counts of sexual battery. In October 2013, the trial court imposed a 20-year prison sentence. Christopher Summers’ state and federal appeals have been unsuccessful.
Charles Summers and his wife have a Facebook page called “Justice for Chris,” which states that the page’s purpose is for everyone who knows them to “learn the whole truth behind what happened to our son.”
In February 2017, Charles Summers submitted a public records request to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. In a detailed response, the county prosecutor, Matthew Fox, denied the requests. Summers submitted nearly the same request to the Mercer County sheriff, Jeff Grey, in March. On the sheriff’s behalf, the prosecutor responded to Summers and denied the requests. The April 2017 correspondence stated in part that Summers was acting improperly as a designee for his son.
Summers’ requests for records included:
Video recordings of interviews with the accuser and other witnesses
Audio recordings of interviews or telephone calls made with the accuser or potential witnesses
Notes made by the prosecutors or sheriff’s detectives during the relevant interviews
Recordings of phone calls made to the sheriff’s office or 911 from the accused’s mother and other recordings of phone calls about the case
Letters sent by the prosecutors to potential defense witnesses
Pictures or notes taken during the search of his son’s home
Correspondence between the prosecutor and the defense lawyers
Statements made by the accuser to the sheriff’s department
Statements made by the accuser’s mother or her family members
Correspondence between the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office.
In July 2018, Charles Summers sued the prosecutor and the sheriff in the Ohio Supreme Court, seeking a writ of mandamus ordering the government offices to produce the records. The Supreme Court initially referred the case to mediation, which resulted in the offices fulfilling some of the requests in November 2018. According to court filings by the prosecutor, the released records included the police reports, the phone calls, and pictures or notes from the house search. In December 2018, the Court returned the case to its regular docket.
Sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy groups, the state sheriff’s association, and the state association of prosecutors have submitted amicus curiae briefs in this public records case. All of the organizations object to the release of an extensive list of records related to the prosecution and conviction of a high school teacher for sexual battery stemming from a relationship with one of his students.
The Court granted a July 2019 request from J.K. to intervene in the case, and in September, all parties asked for oral argument. The Court agreed to hold oral argument.
Wildcat Drilling, LLC v. Discovery Oil and Gas, LLC, Case No. 2019-0222
Seventh District Court of Appeals (Mahoning County)
When a business settles an injury claim — and the business has a contract with an indemnification clause that allows it to collect reimbursement from a wrongdoer to pay the claim — can the factors in the Ohio Supreme Court’s Globe Indem. Co. v. Schmitt decision be used to determine if indemnification is required?
In December 2014, Discovery Oil and Gas contracted with Wildcat Drilling to drill a well in Stark County. The drilling began in late December and was completed in February 2015. In January 2015, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) inspector visited the drilling site and tested water wells nearby. The inspector determined that Wildcat was illegally using brine water in its operation. Under Ohio law, the permit owner, Discovery, not the driller, receives notification of the drilling violations. ODNR issued a violation order to Discovery and indicated that Wildcat violated three laws and two administrative regulations. Discovery negotiated a settlement with ODNR to pay a $50,000 fine in March 2015.
When Wildcat completed the drilling in February, it sent Discovery a bill for $190,350 for its services. Discovery didn’t pay, but rather notified Wildcat in April that ODNR found Wildcat violated the law, and that Discovery was forced to pay a $50,000 fine. Citing an indemnification clause in the contract between the two parties, Discovery indicated it would deduct the fine amount and its legal expenses from the total it owed Wildcat. Wildcat claimed it did not violate the law, and even if so, the penalty should be no more than $10,000.
Both parties sued each other for breach of contract in the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. In 2017, the trial court ruled that Discovery could deduct the fine and $14,150 for expenses, and ordered it to pay $126,200 plus interest to Wildcat. Both parties appealed to the Seventh District Court of Appeals.
The Seventh District ruled that under Globe, Discovery failed to notify Wildcat of the negotiations, and that it was attempting to reach a settlement with ODNR. Because Discovery didn’t notify Wildcat, Discovery was not entitled to any indemnification, the Seventh District decided.
Discovery appealed the decision to the Supreme Court on multiple grounds. The Court agreed to consider only Discovery’s argument that Globe doesn’t apply when parties have a written contract with an indemnification clause.
Total Quality Logistics LLC v. JK & R Express LLC, Case No. 2019-0267
Twelfth District Court of Appeals (Clermont County)
Regardless of whether two business have an indemnification clause in a contract, must the business seeking reimbursement from the other comply with the factors in the Ohio Supreme Court’s Globe Indem. Co. v. Schmitt decision to be indemnified?
Total Quality Logistics (TQL) is a freight broker. It arranges for transportation of customers’ cargo from one location to another for a price. It contracts with independent trucking companies to carry the customer’s cargo for a fee. JK & R Express is an independent trucking company, which regularly contracted with TQL to carry cargo.
In June 2016, TQL negotiated an agreement with JK & R to transport a load of organic apples owned by ConTel Fresh from Washington state to Missouri and New Jersey. A day after picking up the apples, JK & R’s truck trailer caught on fire in Montana and destroyed all the apples.
ConTel submitted an invoice to TQL for $86,240, demanding payment for the full value of the lost load. TQL then notified JK & R through a standard form it used for damage claims. ConTel owed TQL money for previous transports. TQL proceeded to reimburse ConTel for the loss of the apples by providing credits against the amount ConTel owed for other transports. It also reimbursed ConTel for the $5,900 charged to pay JK & R to transport the apples and TQL’s $600 fee. ConTel then assigned all it rights to collect payment from JK & R to TQL.
JK & R refused to pay TQL, and TQL sued for breach of contract in Clermont County Common Pleas Court. TQL cited the indemnification clause in its contract with JK & R requiring the carrier to “defend, indemnify, and hold broker and customers harmless” from liability related to claims such as cargo loss, damage, theft, delay, and bodily injuries.
JK & R requested summary judgment, arguing that TQL’ s arrangement with ConTel left TQL with no legal responsibility to ConTel for the loss of the apples. The trucking company maintained that TQL, for business reasons, didn’t even allow ConTel to know the name of the company that transported its apples, so ConTel sought reimbursement from TQL rather than directly from JK & R. Because TQL was not legally responsible for the loss, the indemnification clause did not apply, JK & R argued. The trial court agreed, finding JK &R had to pay TQL only the $600 for the lost fee.
TQL appealed the decision to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s decision. TQL then appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
Disciplinary Counsel v. Marilyn A. Cramer, Case No. 2019-1739
The Board of Professional Conduct recommends that Cleveland attorney Marilyn Cramer be indefinitely suspended from practicing law. The recommendation results from Cramer’s actions in Franklin County Probate Court related to handling a real-estate matter after her mother’s death. The board found Cramer impugned the integrity of court officers, misrepresented her authority as an estate administrator, testified falsely before the court, and filed many repetitive and baseless pleadings in the case.
Cramer’s mother died in September 2007. She wasn’t a Franklin County resident when she died, but she owned a house in Columbus. However, her estate was handled in Alabama. Because the Columbus house needed to be sold, the Franklin County Probate Court was required to appoint an administrator for that sole purpose.
In September 2014, Cramer filed an application to administer the full estate, even though one of her sisters had been named early on as the administrator. After hearings and amended filings, the probate court appointed Cramer as the administrator only for handling the Franklin County property. Her siblings asked in April 2015 that she be removed from the role because she hadn’t listed the property for sale, as agreed. A probate court magistrate agreed.
The board’s report states that, in subsequent proceedings after the magistrate’s decision, Cramer made many disparaging statements about the court, repeatedly said the court and opposing counsel improperly discussed the case, and claimed the court appointed an attorney to handle the house sale for political reasons. Among her statements, Cramer described the proceeding as a “pseudo-hearing,” alleged the magistrate concealed facts and was trying to avoid doing the necessary work in the case, attacked the clerk’s office for its interactions with her, and accused the new local administrator of hiring someone to break into her mother’s house.
Cramer told a realtor she was the legal administrator for selling the house, and did so before her appointment was made. Cramer also claimed a former police officer helped to break into her mother’s house, but the former officer testified he refused to assist Cramer. In addition, she told the court there was a buyer for the house, but she never submitted the offer. The board also found that Cramer obstructed the subsequent administrator’s efforts, interfered with buyers and potential sales of the property, and threatened other parties and witnesses.
At the disciplinary hearing, Cramer continued to attack the probate court and also accused the lawyer from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of covering for the probate court and framing her. The board panel that heard the case noted that Cramer didn’t present evidence to support her numerous claims. According to the panel, she also presented an affidavit from a supposed buyer for the house, but the individual testified he had no knowledge of the facts in the document. After the hearing, she submitted more than 100 exhibits, and 83 of them were admitted.
The board found Cramer committed multiple violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio lawyers. The report states that she knowingly made false statements about the integrity or qualifications of judicial officers; lied to the court; engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, along with other rule violations.
Before Cramer can be reinstated to the practice of law, the board recommends an evaluation by the Ohio Lawyers’ Assistance Program; compliance with the program’s recommendations, an opinion from a qualified health-care professional stating that she can return to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law; and payment of the $22,256 ordered by the probate court and the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
Cramer filed objections to the board’s findings, conclusions, and recommended sanction, and encourages the Court to reject it in its entirety. She alleges that the board mischaracterizes or withholds critical evidence in this case. She was never disrespectful to the magistrate or judge, but the probate court repeatedly violated state law, court evidence rules, local probate court rules, and judicial conduct rules, she maintains. Instead, she asserts, her actions were intended to protect the estate and its heirs. She also insists that she had multiple potential buyers for house, and three witnesses testified to this during the disciplinary process.
Along with the descriptions in this article, the Office of Public Information has released in-depth summaries of the cases online at: http://www.courtnewsohio.gov/cases/previews/20/0408/0408.asp#.XoS1jXJ7mUk
Date Published: Thursday April 9, 2020