Friday, July 31, 2009

Memo To Jack: The Right Thing

The ethics case against University of Akron trustee and Summit County Board of Elections chairman Jack Morrison is over, at least the first round. There will be appeals of his misdemeanor conviction relating to the sale of a building by his son but this argument isn't about the law, it centers on perception.

Politics is an odd game. Substance often doesn't matter, but perception can be everything. Think of the great managers perceived as incompetent boobs, or the smiling hand-shakers who barely understand the words someone else writes for them. The history of politics is full of 'em.

In the case of Jack Morrison and his continued service to the University of Akron as well as the Summit County Board of Elections, the perception is now everything. The name of the board members themselves -- trustees -- invokes the image of men and women serving the public interest, entrusted with our full confidence to do the right thing.

In this case, the right thing to do is for Jack Morrison to step down from his position as a Trustee of the University of Akron. He should consider doing the same from the Board of Elections.

Summit County, like any other collection of government agencies, has a history of leaders snared in ethical lapses. Party affiliation doesn't matter; ideology isn't a defense.

Remember a few years ago; Summit County Elections Board member Wayne Jones was caught in a scheme using false records to hide a smear campaign targeting County Probate Judge Bill Spicer. At that time, then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell suspended Jones for six months from his position on the BOE but did not remove Jones, even though the hardball political strategy went to the very heart of rules and regulations governing the elections process Jones was entrusted to uphold and support.

Blackwell later argued it wasn't up to him to impose a political "death penalty" on Jones. Blackwell's take was it was our job to clean up our local problem. But the perception and admission by Jones was enough for him to find a solution where Jones would pay a price for his transgression. Jones served his suspension, returned to lead his party and even serves on the Board of Elections -- even as chairman last year.

Fast forward a few years, when it was GOP leader Alex Arshinkoff's time in the box. Now-Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner removed him from the Board of Elections, largely on the folder of evidence provided by Jones. Consisting mostly of newspaper articles targeting Arshinkoff as obstructionist, the Secretary of State ordered Arshinkoff's removal. No law broken, no regulation ignored -- the perception and how it impacted the reality of the Board of Elections was enough to pull the trigger.

While other actions by Brunner were later reversed on appeal by the Ohio Supreme Court*, Arshinkoff continues to guide his side of the debate, including a triumph over his harshest critics when challenged for leadership of the Summit County Republican Party.

Now we have the situation of a sitting trustee and a guardian of the very foundation of our democratic process convicted of two ethics misdemeanors. Morrison's lawyers argue his appeal, on legal grounds that insider knowledge which benefited his son and ultimately himself as shown by forgiving a loan.

That's the legal argument. This is the political: does the University of Akron and Summit County deserve better than splitting hairs over the perception of "here we go again" behavior by individuals charged with rising above the rest of the pack?

We see this play out on Wall Street. Million-dollar bonuses awarded the captains of sinking business ships draws continued outrage, and more anger at a system which doesn't seem capable of checking itself. We note it from Washington, where the same politicians serving oversight on financial and housing institutions also belly up to the trough of VIP-club mortgage deals and campaign funding paid for by the architects of the wave of real estate greed responsible for plunging the strongest economy on the globe into crisis. We see it in ourselves, even as we cry for leadership that accepts responsibility for their actions but remain in power because we won't vote.

Apathy wins because we perceive our voices and votes don't matter.

Jack Morrison has given much to our community; his years of service on behalf of the GOP on the Board of Elections has been spirited. While his opponents may not have appreciated his strategies, he has been an able public servant.

The University of Akron is a much better institution because of the leadership and dedication shown by trustees such as Morrison, and the community is well-served by individuals who pay their own way forward with their time, passion and hard work to keep the wheels turning.

But passion to serve the public doesn't trump conviction of ethical lapses. Summit County has a next generation of leaders on both sides of the political aisle capable of carrying forward the work to be done.

Just as local and statewide political institutions have survived scandal in the past, so will not only Jack Morrison and his family but the University of Akron and Board of Elections without him under a cloud.

The right thing is respecting the business of the people, and understanding that perception matters.

*Editor's note: to clarify, the Supreme Court decision involved the appointment of Brian Daley by the Summit County Republican Party to replace Arshinkoff. Daley's appointment was challenged as well but the state's high court ruled the appointment was the local party's to make, removing Brunner's appointee Don Varian from the Board of Elections.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LeBron, Best Places & Why The Healthcare Rush?

Not quite the dog days of summer yet -- those pop up in August -- but there are some interesting stories making the rounds beyond the Heaven Can Wait saga and attacks in Firestone Park.

The celebrity-watching site is at it again, this time with promises of a video coming later today that will be sure to have Akron watching.

The website that broke the Michael Jackson story -- and seems to continue to "own" the latest revelations, giving traditional media bigwigs fits -- says it has landed what we were led to believe didn't exist.

Video of LeBron James getting dunked on at his basketball camp.

By now you should know the story: LeBron holds a camp for up-and-coming players, and Jordan Crawford of Xavier University does the unthinkable during the LeBron James Skills Academy and slams one home over LBJ. Nike reps, thinking as fast as their shoes can carry then, proceed to scour the arena for anyone with video and point out this isn't acceptable and confiscate the video.

One apparently got away.

It isn't posted yet; TMZ's too smart for that, knowing this is a golden opportunity to showcase their TV show to get the first taste of the video with all the traffic to the web site to follow. Smart marketing...especially with advance notice it'll be posted after 9:45 p.m. tonight.

- - -

Seen the latest edition of Money Magazine featuring a list of the 100 Best Places to Live -- Small Towns version? Not really surprising to note Ohio towns didn't make the top ten, we've become accustomed to getting dissed. But what is interesting is noting how well Ohio communities placed among the towns cracking the top 100.

Westerville (15), Highland Heights (18), Solon (23), Twinsburg (30), Medina (40), Springboro (41) placed well. In fact, Medina was one of two small towns with "A" ratings in all but one category (the other was Plymouth Township, Michigan) ranging from housing affordability, safety, education and leisure/arts.

Guess what's dragging down the top performers?

The economy. Medina earned a C, the same as the other near-perfect. Otherwise northeast Ohio looks like the best location in the nation with Solon, Twinsburg and Highland Heights joining Medina to stake their claim to four of the top 40 rankings.

- - -

Tonight President Obama holds a news conference where the dominant questioning is likely to be over health care. No wonder, since the White House determines when it holds news conferences and right now that's all Washington is talking about. Tomorrow, Mr. Obama brings the health care road show to Shaker Heights for a Town Hall meeting.

The debate now seems to be over which version making its way through Congress is the best, what parts are the worst, and how much/who gets hurt/how long we wait in line for care on the minds of the little people who wind up paying for all this. There is another question, however.

Why the rush to get this done in the next couple weeks?

We've seen just how well managed going trillions of dollars in debt has been so far with the bailouts/recovery many members of Congress approved without reading. If health care truly impacts one-sixth of the economy, isn't this time to keep the heat on public debate without an artificial political deadline?

The Democrats running Congress seem to forget the lesson the Republicans ignored in the rush to war: talk may be cheap, but real debate and actual deliberation is the cornerstone of America's legislative process. It's designed to be clunky and time-consuming because more than 130 years ago a group of rebellious wise dudes decided the wisdom of bringing diverse opinion together and forcing them to talk was a better idea than turning America into a juggernaut dominated by "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead" political strategy.

It would be wise to remember this when talking about policy that will either fix the problem or turn us into a nation with even less money in our wallets to harden the longer wait for a doctor.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cronkite & Today's Leaders

I'm likely not going to make many friends with this post, but what the hell.

Someone ought to point out that President Obama's platitude delivered over the weekend after the death of Walter Cronkite, that for generations Cronkite "was the news", was a nice catch phrase and easy to roll off the tongue. After all, it's the kind of thing people want to hear to make us feel better about ourselves and salve the loss we may be feeling.

I think it's the kind of political babble Cronkite may have found distasteful.

Article after article, post after post from my colleagues and far deeper thinkers than myself, comes the message over and over and over again that Walter Cronkite was the "most trusted" because of his energy, wit and desire to make sure what he was reporting was the truth he could stand behind. Not a case of Walter being the news, as some news anchors have become in our day, but Walter reporting the news. Because "the way it is" continues to mean what is says in simplest terms; not the way I see it, but the way it is. Not an anchor's view, but a reporter's delivery of the story.

Cronkite had credibility because he approached the job of television anchor with a reporter's sensibility. There was no consultant peering over his shoulder, advising him on how to part his hair or look thoughtfully over his glasses. That kind of stuff he figured out on his own because it was just him. The important part of the job was telling the story.

Not to say the show business aspect of broadcasting didn't matter; it just didn't matter as much as the content of what he wanted us to know about. As much a managing editor and reporter as an anchor, Cronkite's legacy many of us hold in reverence today was in telling the story. Not being the story.

I was struck by this thought while watching CBS-TV's excellent (for the most part) special on Cronkite that aired Sunday. But I wondered: where was the reaction and thoughts of the last living U.S. President in office during the Cronkite era? Instead of Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush, both from the same generation who served as President or Vice-President in the years prior to Cronkite's retirement, we are treated to Bill Clinton, who took office a decade after Cronkite had stepped down from the anchor desk.

Apparently instead of telling the story with the contemporaries in history it was better television to "relate" to a younger audience who likely had no idea who Cronkite was. But hey, wasn't it cool to see Clinton and Mickey Hart!

Part of me wants to think this is because it was easier to get a video clip from the White House or Bill Clinton to do a short-notice sit-down for a quick special, or even pull out the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett clips to showcase how cool Walter could be. It added to the entertainment side, the glitz and show-biz of television. Make the story something we can emotionally relate to. One could almost hear the consultants sighing with pleasure.

For me, the real power -- the real emotion -- wasn't in the words of today's political leaders. It was in the power of seeing Cronkite's work as history. My wife wanted to know why I couldn't talk after watching Cronkite in Vietnam, or his coverage of the Kennedy and King assassinations, or the reporting on the Civil Rights movement. It's because 55 years after those Chicago conventions, 46 years after those shots rang out in Dallas, and 41 years after he came home from Vietnam the weight of those times is sometimes too heavy to lift without emotion.

It wasn't Walter being the news; it was Walter telling our history.

We've become so deadened to what's real; the reality television-style politics played out in today's media. Is the race for the White House really that much different than "Survivor"...maybe Jeff Probst should moderate the next debate in 2012, with the losers kicked off by a show of hands? It made me sad to think our version of reality is now the reality TV of the cable news talk shows, and empty words designed to stir emotion -- but not too much emotion, mind you -- from our political leaders interested more in manipulation and posturing than leading. Perception becomes progress, because we feel so good about it.

- - -

There has been lots of talk about how nobody will ever be another Cronkite, much in the way we would never see another David Brinkley, nor even another Peter Jennings. I'm not sure I buy into that argument. The conventional wisdom is the business has changed, but I think the real truth is we don't want to seriously examine our own credibility in telling the story in a way our viewers, listeners and readers still hope for.

Cronkite, Murrow and their peers came up from the reporting ranks to secure their place in journalism. Somewhere along the way the model broke, as network and local broadcast executives looked to short-cut the process and find someone with the gravity of Cronkite or Huntley without the costly grooming to earn those stripes. It became easier to find someone who would act authoritative without being authoritative; never mind they couldn't Q&A their way out of a paper bag with a newsmaker.

As an industry, we somehow need to get back to the idea that reporting big stories, surviving campaigns of war and politics and walking in the shoes of the people we are reporting on matters.

I still remember the sheer force of will of Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, Robin Roberts, Sheppard Smith and Ohio's own Martin Savidge and others showed during Hurricane Katrina coverage. They felt it was their job, their mission, their duty to make us see what was happening.

In typical American fashion, it is something we've forgotten because it was more than 90 seconds ago, but it doesn't have to be that way.

We know the way it was. We know the way it can be again.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

VIDEO Taking The Tour

Our recent vacation time included an opportunity (thanks to Nature Girl's planning) to take in one of the great spectacles in sport -- the Tour de France. We picked up the second day of actual racing, choosing a spot in Villeneuve Lobet, a village stretching from the Mediterranean just west of Nice into the Cote d'Azur hills. This was the first day the cyclists left Monaco and headed into France's cities, towns and villages.

The folks behind this "World Series" of cycling show an absolute genius for marketing not only the sport but also the sponsors and even the country itself. Different routes each year highlight new cities, towns, villages and areas of France. The practiced eye will see cameras on motorcycles before, at the head of the pack, at the end of the pack, and located in strategic points along the packed route.

Many thanks to our newfound friends Corrine and Klaus for their patience with our very poor French and their excellent English. It was great to spend the time between Tour activities talking about the history of this region (the Marquis of this village was one of the few to keep his land and his head during the French Revolution) as well as get a European view of things. I'm always struck at just how much we have in common despite the miles that separate people.

We were told it would be two hours of waiting for a two minute payoff. He was wrong. It was more like nearly three hours of waiting, but it was worth it watching the crowd grow and the long line of sponsors with brightly-colored cars and trucks stream by as part of the "Caravan," sometimes tossing trinkets and hats. At this point the cyclists are secondary; we're here for the party.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

View From The Bench: Is It THAT Bad?

Judging the pace of headlines, one would think we are still swimming in foreclosures, sinking in unemployment and drowning in crime. But according to a new report from Ohio's Supreme Court -- we're actually trending better than one would imagine.

At least that's my takeaway from today's news release, citing the latest statistics compiled by reports from courts all across Ohio.

A reduction in the rate of growth for foreclosure cases is among the conclusions of a new report released today by the Supreme Court of Ohio that for the first time examines 10 years of data from Ohio courts.

Previously, the annual Ohio Courts Summary provided raw statistical tables of activity in Ohio's courts '“ from trial courts to appellate courts to the Supreme Court '“ including statistics about caseloads, case terminations and clearance rates from the previous year. (Mayor's courts' statistics are published in a separate report, which will be released later this year.)

Beginning this year, the raw data are published in a separate publication titled the Ohio Courts Statistical Report, which was published earlier this year. The Ohio Courts Statistical Summary now analyzes the data of the Ohio Courts Statistical Report and identifies trends.

As has been the case for the last several years, foreclosure cases stood out among the court statistics from 2008. In February, the Supreme Court reported a record high number of 85,773 new foreclosure filings in general division courts of common pleas in 2008. Beginning in 2007, foreclosure court cases outnumbered criminal cases in Ohio's common pleas courts for the first time on record.

However, today's report shows that while foreclosure cases have increased for 13 consecutive years, the rate of growth slowed considerably in 2007 and 2008 compared to previous years.
The number of new foreclosure cases filed in Ohio's common pleas courts increased by 23.5 percent from 2005 to 2006. From 2006 to 2007, foreclosures increased by 5.3 percent, and from 2007 to 2008, the rate of increase was 3.1 percent.

A special section on foreclosures delves deeper into these specific caseload statistics. Other notable trends from the report include:

  • The rate of trials in civil cases declined from 1999 to 2008.
  • Divorces and dissolutions are down nearly 20 percent over the decade.
  • Custody and visitation cases in juvenile courts involving unmarried couples are up more than 25 percent since 1999.

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, in his letter introducing the new report, noted the importance of providing reliable, transparent and accessible data on the courts.

'Transforming the mass of caseload statistics collected each year into useful and meaningful information is key to fulfilling our duty to maintain an effective and responsive judicial system,' he said.

Information contained in the reports is provided to the Supreme Court on a monthly basis by all courts except for courts of appeals and probate courts, which provide statistics on a quarterly basis.

If, as the report suggests, the rate of growth in foreclosure cases is actually slowing does that mean the recovery is starting, or are we pretty much hitting bottom in the world of double-digit unemployment? The actual number of foreclosure cases did hit an all-time high, leading one to suggest this is the worst -- but what does the slowing rate mean?

Among the other findings noted in Moyer's release: fewer divorces and failed marriages, fights over where the kids live when parents don't marry are up and trials in civil cases are down. On that last item: does that mean all the stories of a legal system run amok, with trial lawyers taking over the world, were just scare tactics?

Ohio's Supreme Court and, in particular, Chief Justice Moyer should be commended for putting these statistics out for public view and discussion. These relatively dry readings usually wind up in the legal journals but they have a big impact (and paint a vivid picture) of all of us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dogs, Cats, Daddy Talk Show Hosts & VISA

The week that keeps on giving. An update on a raid of an animal rescue operation, the reaction from a father and an update on why VISA isn't recognized everywhere.

Cats and dogs first -- more than 100 pulled from 51 Vesper Street in Akron, provoking some pretty harsh comments aimed at the leader of "Heaven Can Wait" and those seeing political payback lurking behind every nook and cranny.

You likely know the story by know, but if not here's the original report and the follow-up with HCW executive director Heather Nagel talking with WAKR's Ray Horner this morning. Both include audio interviews and the Nagel story has photos provided by the City of Akron on conditions inside the home. You can almost catch a whiff (or a gag) from the slideshow.

Right off the bat -- it's easy to condemn those trying to help so many animals. But those casting the first stone should take a breath, a deep breath, and consider just what it takes to mind so many of God's creatures the rest of us have kicked to the curb, or worse. It can't be easy in any scenario to take care of dozens and dozens of cats and dogs, keeping up with the mountains of food needed and what comes later.

I give Nagel and Heaven Can Wait high marks for trying to do the right thing, and following their hearts in helping the animals. I'd give them all the benefit of a doubt and trust their intentions in this endeavor were good, old-fashioned open hearted service.

But it appears the well-spring of caring was just flooded by the reality of so many animals in such a relatively limited space. A few years ago, my NewsNight Akron crony Jody Miller and I toured the Humane Society digs on Quick Road and got a reality check of the cards stacked against those who seek to help the forgotten animals of our community. They do a wonderful job under conditions most of us wouldn't tolerate for a minute much less the days, weeks and months put in by volunteers who lead with love rather than their sense of smell.

That said, the conditions on Vesper appear absolutely out of control. It's a shame the finger-pointing now even includes cries of political subterfuge and payback. Let's be real for a minute: it's a house with over a hundred dogs and cats. It ain't the Ritz, and common sense should suggest it wasn't fit for human or animal. Give Heaven Can Wait props for seeking to serve but let's hope they find a place better suited to pursue their passion.

- - -

The back story on this is more than just the usual political positioning: I was on the receiving end of what I can charitably describe as a "flaming" call from Heather's father, WNIR-FM talk show host Tom Erickson. Needless to say threats of legal action were hurled, harsh words were tossed, and it was unpleasant -- exactly what I would expect from a father after his daughter's trip through the news.

I don't blame Tom for being upset over the coverage. What parent wouldn't be? What surprises me, frankly, is a "shoe on the other foot" syndrome we see and hear so often today. If it had been the child of another prominent figure -- let's say, for example, either Mayor Plusquellic, Warner Mendenhall, or a media figure such as Matt Patrick or the bevy of TV anchors in Cleveland -- don't you think that would be part of the conversation at the water cooler?

Wouldn't it be noted -- especially if proud Papa had included interviews with said child on his show?

I believe it was fair to make note of the family link because it was public, defined not by my definition of celebrity but Tom's decision to include Heather's activities on behalf of her animal rescue group as well as her politics. I must say Heather displayed more reason in her interview with Ray Horner than I heard over the phone Tuesday.

- - -

Finally, an update on my post regarding using your credit card to pay Summit County bills. What about VISA?

You can use Discover, American Express and MasterCard but leave the V-card at home. Jill Skapin of County Executive Russ Pry's office explains it isn't the county's call, but instead is an odd requirement from Visa that the government workers processing payments aren't allowed to swipe the credit card. It has to be done by the consumer, and since it would cost more money to install public card readers outside of security windows than it's worth you should leave the Visa card behind.

If we cannot swipe, we are left to gripe.

VISA -- everywhere you want to be except paying my county tax and service bills.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gettin' With The Times

Summit County Executive Russ Pry ought to get a nice round of applause for helping to drag local government into the late 20th century by updating collection practices to include credit cards. Going plastic is more than just everyday; it's the way the world does business.

Pry's publicity machine reminded the news media of this in a news release today, noting Summit County's Animal Control and Building departments were the latest to go MasterCard, AMEX and Discover ( I'm not sure what happened to VISA; there's the follow-up) in giving taxpayers the same opportunity to pay public bills as they use to pay private.

With the explosion of digital payments -- not just using a credit or debit card, but also using e-banking to serve your e-commerce needs -- it was long overdue, and surprising that it didn't come sooner than the March 2009 vote from County Council on Pry's bid to modernize government billing.

You DO pay a convenience fee for this; the company managing the payments charges 2.5%, a heck of a lot cheaper than many businesses enjoy (and pass along to their customers) and considerably less than what it costs to buy a ticket to a concert or sporting event with all their consumer-unfriendly add-on fees. But in the long run it's worth in, allowing the government to more track with more accuracy their payments and cash flow. Ditto the consumer: the end-of-the year statement most credit cards provide is a gold mine when figuring out taxes and tracking our own payments.

If you've been tagged with a traffic ticket recently (count me among the nailed) then you know you can do the same thing through the court systems on the most routine violations, saving considerable time and trouble.

There is always great discussion on the impact of the web on government information, most recently the "costs" of opening city records to critics of the Plusquellic Administration. But the growing use of web-based payment and electronic billing shows another side to making government records more available online; it includes the system of billing that no longer ties us to remembering to send the check or taking time out of the day to drive down to the courthouse to make a payment. And unless the mainframe computer has a serious case of e-digestion, there's always a record of it.

During a recent trip overseas, I was struck how restaurants and cafes in even the smallest of towns used wireless credit card processing (such as the unit, at left) and servers and hosts didn't have to take the card away from customer view to process, they would tally up the bill and slide the card right in front of you. It addresses a security concern while also standardizing the use of wireless technology, which provides great opportunity for growth in other ways as well.

Welcome to the new way of doing things. It is a great reminder of how far we've come -- and how far we still have to go in taming technology to work for the end user: us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Sure Thing: No Longer Postal

Time was there were few things as reliable and solid as the post office; they brought it rain, shine, snow, gloom of night -- and for those looking for a lifetime of stability the U.S. Postal Service was the gold standard of getting a job for life.

My, how times have changed.

Across the newsdesk comes this note:

"The Postal Service now projects a loss of more than $6 billion this fiscal year. The losses are the result of dramatic mail volume declines caused primarily by the economic downturn but also reflective of electronic diversion '“ online bill paying and electronic correspondence.

In Fiscal year 2008, these factors resulted in a mail volume decline of 9.5 billion pieces, or 4.5 percent, the largest in Postal history. Projections for this year are no more encouraging; it now appears volume decline for this year may exceed 20 billion pieces. From a peak of 213 billion pieces in 2006, the Postal Service may handle only 180 billion pieces this year.

To improve efficiencies, the Postal Service has offered early retirements, adjusted delivery routes, adjusted Post Office hours of operation, reduced hours of operation in mail processing facilities, suspended new post office construction, consolidated mail processing operations, removed underused blue collection boxes, cut travel budgets, and reduced administrative staffing by 15%, among many actions taken.

Because the options and choices customers have been given to conduct their postal business has increased exponentially '” many of those choices and options do not involve physical post offices '“ the Postal Service is now reviewing its retail network to determine if operations in some branch offices could be consolidated with other offices. Nationally, more than 3,000 stations and branches are being reviewed.

In the greater Akron area, the following offices will be reviewed:

Chapel Hill Station, 2000 Brittain Rd.
Downtown Akron Station, 209 S. Main St.
Maple Valley Station, 1518 Copley Rd.
East Akron Branch, 1763 Goodyear Blvd.

'No determination has been made to close any stations or branch office,' stresses Akron Postmaster Rose Spraggins, 'but we have an obligation to pursue strategies and solutions that will mitigate the impact of the economy and electronic diversion.' Factors such as impact on employees, service standards, cost savings, customer access, environmental impact, real estate values and long-term Post Service needs will be taken into account during the review process, said Spraggins."

Never thought I'd see something like this, but then again I never would have imagined the postal service advertising "if it fits, it ships" in my lifetime. Then again, my lifetime has seen the rise of UPS, FedEx and a host of other delivery services taking away from the people's mail service followed by the explosion of email, texting and other social networking replacing social mail.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Keeping Quiet On Justice?

There's an odd little battle playing out behind the scenes of Summit County Common Pleas Court in the case of the State of Ohio v Ashford Thompson -- and it doesn't have a thing to do with the eventual sentence the admitted killer of Twinsburg police officer Josh Miktarian will eventually get.

The issue is apparently answering questions from the media, namely Ed Meyer of the Akron Beacon Journal, regarding even the simplest of requests for information -- such as when a hearing will be held or scheduled.

Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer fired off an order dated June 25th, 2009 (read the .pdf version here; it's one page) which is unusual in that it specifically targets Summit County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brad Gessner to keep his mouth shut.

This after Thompson, who admits he shot and killed Miktarian during what was apparently a routine traffic stop, already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Not by a jury which may be swayed by comments in the media, but instead a panel of judges which will rule on a life-or-death sentence.

Gessner is talking back, but by motion -- filed July 7, 2009, in response to Stormer's motion. While Judge Stormer took two lines to have her say, Gessner's filing (read the .pdf version here) runs about a dozen pages and points out the power of judges to slap gag orders on cases usually stems from the desire to seat a fair, impartial jury unaffected by commentary or coverage by the media. Such gag orders are quite rare, and in this case it is pretty unusual to see it ordered in a case where the jury deciding Thompson's fate is actually made up of judges who are supposedly immune to public opinion.

Gessner argues the gag order doesn't fit the bill for the normal "purpose and intent" of gag orders, and should be either removed or expanded to include court employees who aren't covered by the order (right now it is aimed at prosecutors and defense lawyers, not court employees) and shouldn't be answering questions posed by the media to the state.

He has some pretty strong language on his side, citing a Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal (the Feds) decision noting that when a case is decided by a judge rather than a jury there are " compelling reasons to restricting lawyer's comments to assure a fair trial." The specific case even mirrors the Thompson case, where the defendant had already been convicted and was awaiting sentencing. In the Summit County case, it is a three-judge panel making this decision.

Gessner's response also note Ohio Supreme Court rulings that a gag order was "...a prior restraint on free speech," and there was a "heavy presumption against its constitutional validity..." when ruling against the broad use of gag orders by judges.

The quote that apparently started all of this? The Prosecutor's office was quoted by the ABJ's Meyer saying "Unfortunately, justice is not coming quickly" shouldn't be enough to issue a gag order, argues Gessner, even if the court (Marsh-Stormer) may find it "offensive." Meyer was questioning (as other news organizations also wondered) why it was taking until October to move forward in the mitigation phase of Thompson's sentencing. His story reported the costs taxpayers would wind up paying for expert witnesses on Thompson's behalf were enough cause for concern to the court.

Both sides were told to not comment on the case, but does that actually include answering procedural questions or something as generic as explaining the process? It has been a year since Miktarian was gunned down in the early morning hours after pulling up beside Thompson's car, and clearly there is interest from the public in seeing how justice is dispensed after the murder of a police officer.