Sandusky County court officials apparently failed to follow every procedural requirement in the Ohio Revised Code designed to guarantee a fair and open process last year when they began selecting a special grand jury to hear evidence in the death of Jacob Limberios.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a court motion March 26 concerning one violation: Sandusky County clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer's failure to give public notice of the intent to call a grand jury.
But Overmyer and her brother, Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, Sandusky County Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara Ansted and court administrator Brock Kimmet all were unable this week to show any of the other numerous requirements in state law were followed.
In the motion citing the one violation, DeWine asked visiting Judge Dale Crawford to affirm the grand jury's findings despite the error, stating there wasn't any evidence any grand juror was biased during the proceeding.
It's unclear if the AG's office will file a second court motion citing the other apparent violations of the process, or whether the reasons given to affirm the findings in the first request are an accurate reading of the Ohio Revised Code.
The laws governing the selection process are an extension of federal law.
"The U.S. Constitution requires that all judicial proceedings be open to the public. The guarantee is not a right that an individual can waive. Rather, it is a right that is guaranteed to the public," said Geoff Mearns, a former federal prosecutor in New York who is now president of Northern Kentucky University. "These state statutes are intended to preserve that guarantee."
The apparent violations by court officials follow on the heels of multiple missteps during the initial investigation by the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office into the death of Limberios on March 2, 2012. The first stage of the investigation was wrapped up in less than three hours.
The missteps, however, included the destruction of evidence, the failure to order an autopsy, false polygraph test results and a nonsensical "accidental suicide" ruling that county coroner John Wukie still refuses to correct more than two years later.
Despite the procedural violations, the Ohio Attorney General's Office remains confident in the grand jury that heard the evidence.
"No evidence has been brought forward suggesting any grand juror was biased," Dan Tierney, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's spokesman, said Wednesday.
Tierney cited a statute he suggested might override the fair and open "procedural" requirements in the Ohio Revised Code, which states that only an indicted criminal suspect can bring a complaint about the jury selection process.
But that's not the basis of the fair and open statutes, according to Mearns, who is a Yale law school graduate and was a practicing attorney with the Baker Hostetler law firm in Cleveland before becoming provost at Cleveland State University and later taking his current position as president at NKU.
"It is immaterial that there was no actual harm, that is, that no indictments were returned," Mearns said. "The constitutional guarantee is intended to instill the public’s confidence in the fair administration of justice. Any time that guarantee is not honored, there is a risk that public confidence will erode."
DeWine, in the court motion filed earlier citing the one apparent violation, suggested it likely was a "procedural" mistake by Tracy Overmyer in October when she started the selection process but failed to give public notice.
Judge Crawford told the Fremont News-Messenger he didn't understand DeWine's court motion, saying it made "no sense." He also said he wasn't sure when he would rule on the motion because he's "been very busy" and it was not a priority for him.
FAMILY AND CONFLICT
Ansted, who twice before recused herself from involvement in the Limberios investigation citing potential conflicts of interest, acknowledged she signed a grand jury document related to the Limberios investigation dated Oct. 25, 2013, but she refused to say whether she attended the meeting she was certifying by signing it.
Ansted also refused to say anything about whether a "random draw" of potential jurors happened, the location of the mandatory meeting required by state law or who else might have participated.
Sheriff Overmyer, who was in charge of the initial botched death investigation, and Tracy Overmyer also refused to verify whether the mandatory meeting took place, the location where it occurred or who was present and participated.
It's not clear whether any meeting actually happened; why Ansted signed the document after recusing herself twice before; or why Judge Crawford failed to participate if the mandatory meeting actually did happen.
In a public records request Feb. 18, Tracy Overmyer was asked by the Register to provide the documentation required by state law, but she initially replied that Crawford sealed the documents under a secret gag order.
She later acknowledged the records could not be gagged after consulting with Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt's office, which also was previously removed from the investigation due to its potential conflicts of interest in the botched investigation.
The document Tracy Overmyer later provided is incomplete, and it is not time/date-stamped the same way similar documents related to other grand juries are documented.
IN THE MONEY
Tracy Overmyer told the News-Messenger a vendor associated with a used car dealership in Bellevue conducted the "random draw" required by state law, but she has been unable to provide any documentation that would explain her relationship with the vendor or any contracts that would explain the $324,000 paid to the vendor since she took office in 2010.
Team Ray Techonolgies CEO Ryan Ray at the company's website had stated its Rockware Justice division was created as a "joint venture" with the Sandusky County clerk of courts, but he later modified that language to say it was a "pet project."
Tracy Overmyer has refused to say if she has profited from the joint venture with Rockware, whose latest invoice paid by the county was for $42,000 in early March.
The modifications on its website were made about March 25, immediately after the Register reported the information and at about the same time the AG's office told Rockware Justice to remove the references suggesting the company was working with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in developing court services software.
The AG's office called those claims "deceptive advertising."
Ryan Ray also has refused to reply to inquiries from the Register.
Tierney, the AG's spokesman, said the AG's office would continue to review the other apparent procedural mistakes made regarding the random draw and documentation required by state law that occurred, but he added the review "could take some time."
WAITING ON JUDGE
Meanwhile, a decision from Crawford is still pending on the March 25 motion from the AG's office to affirm the grand jury's findings.
Crawford appointed DeWine's office in May 2013 to investigate the circumstances surrounding Jake's death — 14 months after Limberios died — when he removed the sheriff's office and other local officials from any further participation.
DeWine's investigation determined the initial investigations by Sheriff Overmyer, coroner Wukie and prosecutor Stierwalt's office reached inaccurate conclusions, which Mike and Shannon Limberios, Jacob's parents, suspected from the start.
DeWine said Wukie, who never conducted any investigation of any substance, should correct the nonsensical suicide ruling he put on the death certificate, but Wukie has refused despite the determination that Jacob's death was an accident.
Wukie is the only person involved who contends Jacob Limberios committed suicide.
Tierney said the AG's office will not file a court motion asking Crawford to order Wukie to correct the death certificate because of the threat of potential litigation from the Limberios family.
Mike and Shannon Limberios dropped a lawsuit they filed seeking a competent investigation and the "truth" about how their son died, however, after DeWine finished his investigation in November.
They filed the lawsuit before DeWine's office was appointed, after they were forced to contract for their own autopsy of Jacob's body when Wukie refused to order one or return their phone calls to him concerning their request for an autopsy. Wukie later, however, did order a second exhumation and autopsy, the results of which suggested his nonsensical suicide ruling could be correct.
Jacob's body was returned to the family two weeks after the second autopsy, over Mother's Day weekend 2013, and was buried for a third time in Castalia Cemetery.
Read the Ohio Revised Code statutes governing grand jury selection:
Note: This article has been changed to correct the references to "deceptive advertising" and Crawford's statement the court motion made "no sense."