Officials can't fix grand jury

Sandusky County Clerk of Courts, sheriff and judge won't discuss it
Register
Apr 4, 2014

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. 

Read the court motion

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

Tracey Overmyer, Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, Judge Ansted and Kimmet all refused to confirm the statutes were followed when asked earlier this week. 

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. 

Read the petition for removal of prosecutor, sheriff

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." 

Click here to read related articles

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. 

Click here to read related articles

*

Read the Ohio Revised Code statutes governing grand jury selection: 

ORC 2939.02

ORC 2313.08

ORC 2313.09

ªORC 2313.10

•ORC 2313.16

Note: This article has been changed to correct the references to "deceptive advertising" and Crawford's statement the court motion made "no sense."

Comments

holysee

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

holysee

Brittany Bowers. What did kimmet say to you?
Wish I was a fly on that wall!

holysee

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

vcreed123

Someone other than the register needs to take a very deep look at "team ray"

Erie Sniper

Why? None of the founders of Team Ray Technologies had anything to do with Jake dying. None of them have any personal interest in the outcome of the trial. None of them are related to any of the corrupt Sandusky County officials involved in this case. None of them are related to the three witnesses. They are a vendor that provided a service to Sandusky County Courts for a fee. Everyone knows that government contracts pay the most, so yes they were paid a lot for doing a job. Not their fault that Sandusky County was willing to pay so much. Good for them for making a profit.

DickTracey

Well good morning, Team Ray! You finally created a screen name to come on in and defend yourself? Love Erie Sniper, it sounds like a very angry name.

Maybe Team Ray is not in the Overmyer family tree, but there is a connection somewhere. It will be brought out in the Six Degrees of Sandusky County, eventually. No one gets handed a contract of that size.

Whose bed have your boots been under?

Blue.Streaker

Dick: Take a look at what Goble came up with. It appears that Erie County pays this much, or more, for its court software. From reading the articles, it appears the software does very similar functions. The only difference I see is that Sandusky County is paying much less ($81,000/yr vs. $109,000/yr) for annual maintenance.

Looks to me like Erie County could benefit from contacting Team Ray.

Erie Sniper

Sorry DICK! I'm not part of Team Ray. I just know the people involved.

ContraryAnn

I thought all the receipts had been gained from Auditor Bill Farrell. And has ANYONE talked to the County Administrator or County Commissioners who approved the CoC budget and ALL expenditures?
And reading through past articles/comments I noticed someone asked about the costs of developing the software from its inception in 2004 until Overmyer's predecessor (who seeks to be County Auditor) left office and she stepped in.

Random Thoughts

This question has been asked a couple of times before, but I have not seen an answer: Has Erie County, or for that matter any county in the area, always followed the grand jury procedural requirements in the ORC?  I understand the Register's focus on Sandusky County, but would also like to know if this problem exists solely in Sandusky County.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks for asking the question again, Random Thoughts. Thus far, the only checking done was with Erie County Common Pleas Court, which provided grand jury venires and other fair and open slection documents in pretty short order and these all appeared to be in line with the requirements of the Ohio Revised Code.

Blue.Streaker

Much has been said about the failure to give notice of the GJ. Did you find that the public notice was, in fact, given in Erie County? Was it in the Register or somewhere else?

Matt Westerhold

It wasn't the News-Messenger, Blue.Streaker, but I think I understand your question better after re-reading it. We will seek to determine that specifically today but it could be next week before there's an answer. The other Erie County documents that were reviewed appeared in line with the statutes. 

Blue.Streaker

Well, it's been a week. No response.

This tells me either:

1. You think this is long enough that nobody remembers your statement.

or

2. You did the research and found out that none of the other area counties publish this required legal notice, and you don't want to admit it.

Well, which is it?

Babo

I know this is a big story requiring a lot of research but did you check if the requirements have been followed in Erie County with special grand juries whenever a special prosecutor is appointed?

The Limberios case involved a "special grand jury" because a special prosecutor was appointed due to conflicts with the County prosecutor's office. Thus, a regular grand jury can not be utilized whenever a special prosecutor is needed because the county prosecutor's office interacts with that grand jury and could influence the outcome.

So, it would be interesting to learn if a "special grand jury" was properly seated in any case in which the Erie County prosecutor admitted to having conflicts and requested a special prosecutor or if the regular grand jury was used.

The Joe Yost prosecution would be a good current example. Was there a special grand jury called and properly seated in his case?

My point is the Limberios case is but one example in my opinion of a much larger problem of special prosecutors and or retired judges being improperly utilized in many counties in Ohio to create an appearance of proper court procedure. However, in reality the outcomes are pre-determined to either cover up or protect wrongdoing by government officials and the politically connected or over charge and harass government critics or perceived threats to the system such as investigative reporters.

ContraryAnn

BAbo... you seem to be knowledgable. Is there anything in the law that would prevent a Sandusky County resident who is a probation officer in another county from serving on the grand jury?

my oh my

I can answer this question for you. The answer is no. Because about 9 yrs ago I served on a grand jury,petit jury and muni court jury all within about a 1 yr time frame. I am involved in the law enforcement legal arena as a government employee..

ContraryAnn

I am impressed! One cannot serve simultaneously on three juries at a time.
Juries are drawn for a trimester - four months - which would mean your name came up on the wheel in January, May, and September and for a different jury each time....or some similar pattern (ie: April, September, January, etc.) Approximately 6,600 persons are put in the pools annually for Grand, Common Pleas, County, Fremont Municipal, Bellevue Municipal courts. As two of 42,000 registered voters in Sandusky County my spouse and I have each been 'pooled' once - one in county, one in common pleas - in 25 years.

Babo

LOL, good one! Imagine that...a government worker involved in law enforcement "randomly" being called to three different jury pools and being seated on three different juries in one year. Gee what were the odds? One in 42,000 cubed in a small county like Sandusky and much higher in a larger county with more registered voters.

Reminds of a story wherein a person was "randomly" assigned the same judge in a county with over 25 judges on four different political civil and criminal cases over a period of three years involving the same lawyers or their friends. LOL, yeah that was "random and "fair" too!

Babo

I have no knowledge of a law that prohibits anyone in law enforcement from serving on grand juries or any other type of jury. However, if the selection process is not completely random or there is some personal interest or conflict of interest that would jeopardize the neutrality of a jury then one would expect that person to be challenged or removed. Usually a LEO would be eliminated by defense counsel in a petit jury for example due to conflict of interest or bias towards the state.

I think the issue in Sandusky County is the process may have been corrupted to allow the improper selection of jury members or at least the appearance of an improper selection. For example, a judge who admits to having conflicts of interest and recused herself from the Limberios case was responsible for overseeing the special grand jury selection process. It may just be sloppiness or laziness but it appears suspect to me.

The Limberios case was high profile and called into question the integrity of law enforcement and the prosecutors office in Sandusky County. Thus it was extremely important that everything associated with that special grand jury was done correctly to avoid even an appearance of impropriety. Instead of dotting all the "I's" and crossing all the "T's" the county appears to have mishandled the process and now stonewalling creates an appearance they have something to hide.

ContraryAnn

I was speaking specifically of a Special Grand Jury called specifically to investigate performance of LAW ENFORCEMENT/COURTS with regard to a high profile case.
It seems LAW ENFORCEMENT investigating performance by LAW ENFORCEMENT is a conflict of interest.
So, by what I see you writing, if a grand jury is called to investigate Officer Vitte, it is not a conflict of interest if a PROBATION OFFICER - or conversely - a Childrens Services investigator is impanelled?
Well this is Sandusky County. Several years ago the brother of a school board member (and relative of the judge) nearly was seated in a jury deciding a case filed against the school. Only by chance did the Defense use a peremptory challenge... the attorney only learned later.

Babo

Believe me, I understand your point. However, there are no laws against these situations but the Judge (with any integrity) who is supposed to oversee the grand jury and ensure due process of law would not allow a grand juror to be seated with the conflicts given.

However, in my opinion the problem in Sandusky County and a lot of other counties is judges especially retired judges are not seeking to ensure the fair administration of justice but are acting with a political agenda and directly undermining the fair administration of justice. Obviously only a judge with no ethics would fail to bring forward the fact that a potential juror was the brother of a party as well as related to him. Also counsel for the School board had a duty to disclose it to the Defense.

My suggestion is a bunch of people ought to file grievances on Judges Ansted, Dewey and Crawford. Also possibly a Declaratory action could be filed in Federal court seeking to declare the actions of the Grand Jury void for violating due process.

Goble101

I don't see anywhere in the letter from the AG where it says, "false advertising".

Matt Westerhold

You are correct, Goble. The letter from the AG's Office states "deceptive advertising." The reference in this article has been corrected to reflect this. Thanks for pointing out the error. 

doppleganger

What is despective?

Matt Westerhold

I have no idea, doppleganger. The word was supposed to be "deceptive," which also can be defined as false. Thanks for the catch. I fixed it in the comment. 

Goble101

Has any research been done on what other counties in the area are spending on court software as a comparison?

Matt Westerhold

See the response above. The reporting likely could be broadened along those lines but our initial inquiries have provided no indication there are similar non-contracted (if that is the case) arrangements in other counties. News developments particular to the Limberios story at times have been occuring quickly and the reporting has to be done one step at a time.

Goble101

I did a little poking around and it looks like Erie County had a quote 2 years ago for software totaling $339,450 with a yearly service fee of $107,838.

http://www.eriecounty.oh.gov/ind...

Matt Westerhold

Good poking Goble101. We did take a look back at that, although we didn't dig too deep with regard to the Limberios news coverage. It seemed to match up with what we found preliminarily to be a standard system used by many county court systems under contract. We'll attempt to get back there next week, but, again, the initial review suggested what Erie County was attempting to do was pretty standard systems bidding. The Register several years ago reported extensively about serious difficulties inside the county clerk of courts office prior to Luvada Wilson becoming court clerk. 

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