Thursday, August 5, 2010

A non-profit legal advocacy firm is asking the Ohio Elections Commission to dismiss a complaint from a county elections board that contends a blogger violated campaign finance laws with postings that, among other things, target “RINOs” – Republicans in Name Only.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law characterized a filing from the Geauga County Board of Elections against Edmund Corsi as “an apparent retaliatory action against an outspoken critic.” [Read more…]

(WBNS 10TV) Watchdog: Red Light Camera Law ‘Fundamentally Flawed’

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 6:00 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some critics on Tuesday said that the city’s controversial red light camera program is fundamentally flawed and could be challenged in court.

The city said that the red light camera program is about safety, but 10 Investigates has discovered the camera system that helps spot red light violators may be based on a shaky law.

The cameras catch drivers breaking the law by running red lights. They also catch those who turn on red without stopping. The city’s system is also snaring some innocent drivers, 10 Investigates’ Paul Aker reported.

The city sent Lance Smith a $95 ticket for turning right on a red light. The city’s documents showed Columbus sent more than 15,000 similar tickets between January and April.

Smith said he was not guilty because he stopped.

“I was very upset, I couldn’t believe it,” Smith said.

After reviewing the camera’s tape, a hearing officer agreed and said Smith did not break the law.

According to the law the city enacted to start its red light camera program, it is illegal to move past the stop bar whenever there is a steady red light.

The law does not make exceptions for right-hand turns, Aker reported.

“I think it’s faulty, that system is faulty,” Smith said.

Critics of the law agreed.

Ohio law states it is OK to turn right on red, unless signs are posted that prohibit right turns.

There are no such signs at intersections with the red light cameras, Aker reported.

Columbus’ 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a Libertarian-oriented constitutional watchdog, said the law is unconstitutional and is prepared to fight it in court.

“There is a viable challenge,” said the center’s spokesman, Maurice Thompson. “We’ll support that attorney with legal research and legal briefing and make sure that the people of Ohio are ultimately able to limit their government and to keep a little bit of their own money in their pocket.”

Public safety officials said the red light cameras are legal, but agreed that the laws surrounding them need some work.

View the original story here.

Judge sets charter school precedent

Public districts can no longer stop competitors from moving in to old buildings

BY KIMBALL PERRY • Cincinnati Enquirer • June 1, 2010

CINCINNATI — For the first time, a Hamilton County judge has allowed an exclusive exception to property deed restrictions that could help thwart attempts by public school districts to block school children — and the public money that accompanies them — from going to charter schools across the country.

Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled last week the Cincinnati Public School district cannot prevent Roger Conners from opening a charter school at the old Roosevelt School at 1550 Tremont Street after he bought the building from the district. That ruling came even though the deed on the building carried a clause — that Conners knew about — prohibiting the building from ever again being used for a school.

“There has never been a court in Ohio or the country that has decided to void a deed restriction … as it relates to charter schools,” said Scott Phillips, attorney for Cincinnati Public Schools.

The ruling is ominous for school districts across the state, especially those in major metropolitan areas which no longer can use similar deed restrictions to try to keep charter schools from opening, Maurice Thompson, Conners’ attorney, said Friday.

That’s because the issue largely is about money.

“It’s done to suppress the growth of charter schools in Cincinnati,” said Thompson, director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a private, nonprofit public policy law firm with a goal of preventing government abuses.

Each student who leaves Cincinnati Public Schools for a charter school takes with him or her about $5,700 in public education money to the new school.

Thompson noted about 7,000 Cincinnati students attend charter schools, taking with them about $40 million in state money that previously went to the public schools.

Conners and others bought the building — one of nine the district auctioned off last year because they were dilapidated — for $30,000. His group noted at the time the building would be used for commercial purposes.

Shortly after the sale was complete, Conners told the public school district he planned to open a charter school — publicly financed, privately operated schools that operate independently of and compete with traditional districts — in the building.

Cincinnati Public Schools sued.

Conners argued, and Ruehlman agreed, the district’s deed restrictions violated public policy.

Thompson said it was akin to selling your house and putting a clause in the deed noting the house can’t be sold to a person of a specific race.

“Cincinnati (school district) can’t enforce this restriction, now or in the future,” Thompson said.

Other school districts have tried similar deed restrictions to limit the growth of charter schools and their drain of the public money, Thompson said. Ruehlman’s ruling, he added, ends that.

“This is actually a big issue across the state,” Thompson said, “because they are all losing money to charter schools.”

Phillips noted the “public policy exception” cited by the judge is “rarely used” and shouldn’t have been in this case. It is “highly likely” the district will appeal Ruehlman’s decision, Phillips said Friday.

Conners’ school, the Theodore Roosevelt School, has 12 classrooms and will be for kindergarten through 12th grade. It will focus on an individualized technology-based program.

Already, it has 45 students enrolled and plans to have 150 by the time school opens in mid-August, Thompson said. It has 35 employees, including 18 teachers.

Conners has spent about $100,000 to renovate the unused building and win a zoning change that allows for the building to become — again — a school.

Maurice Thompson talks smoking bans on Detroit’s WJR-AM

With Michigan’s recently enacted smoking ban about to go into effect, Frank Beckmann of WJR-AM Detroit spoke with 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson about his successful efforts challenging Ohio’s smoking ban.

Listen to the interview here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Read more about the 1851 Center’s successful challenge of the Ohio smoking ban here.

AP: ACORN gives up Ohio business license, won’t return

Thursday, March 11, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The community organizing group ACORN has agreed to give up its Ohio business license and not return under another name, as it has in other states, under a settlement struck with a libertarian center that sued it.

U.S. District Judge Herman Weber, in Cincinnati, signed off on the deal, which settles claims brought by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law against ACORN’s voter registration practices. Other terms of the deal are confidential.

The center alleged in a lawsuit filed in 2008 that ACORN’s voter registration drives amounted to organized crime because the group turned in a pattern of fraudulent forms.

Center attorney Maurice Thompson said restricting ACORN’s ability to support or enable other groups to “do what they do” was crucial to the deal, especially in a state he characterized as “ground zero” to their voter advocacy efforts.

“It carries a great deal of significance because, in the absence of that term, ACORN could simply have shut down but reopened the next day as WALNUT or CHESTNUT or whatever and done the exact same thing,” Thompson said. “So our goal was to affect permanent change.”

In other states, including New York and California, ACORN chapters have disbanded and resumed operations under new names.

The California ACORN chapter split from the national organization in January, forming a new nonprofit called the Alliance of Californians for Community Employment, or ACCE.

In New York, where three ACORN employees were caught on video apparently advising a couple posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend to lie about her profession and launder her earnings, ACORN’s local offices disbanded and resumed operations as New York Communities for Change. Prosecutors said they found no criminal wrongdoing by the employees.

That video and a series of others filmed at ACORN offices around the country last year sparked a national scandal and helped drive the organization to near ruin.

ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said Thursday the group agreed to surrender its Ohio business license by June 1 and already has closed up shop in the state.

“For reasons unrelated to the lawsuit, ACORN was winding up its staff operations in Ohio anyway,” he said. “So there was no practical reason for us to spend time and money litigating this suit further, even though it was baseless and intended to harass us.”

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, describes itself as an advocate for low-income and minority home buyers and residents. It denied any wrongdoing in Ohio.

Whelan said offshoot groups that have formed as new nonprofits may have help from former ACORN activists but are independent entities. He said no such effort has taken place in Ohio.

“They’re new corporations, incorporated with different boards that include some people that used to be involved with ACORN but also prominent community members from labor and public life,” Whelan said. “So those really are new and different things, although a number of people who played a big role in them played a role in ACORN for a long time.”