It was a "perfectly fine" grand jury, visiting Judge Dale Crawford declared in comments Tuesday during a news conference he called at the Sandusky County Courthouse.
"I am here today because people keep asking questions and I keep hearing the wrong answers," Crawford said at the start of the 30-minute presentation about the deliberations of the grand jury that reviewed the Jacob Limberios death investigations.
WATCH THE NEWS CONFERENCE VIDEO IN BOX BELOW
Crawford said allegations had been made, and referred to the Sandusky Register without being specific about his concern. He "had great respect" for the media, Crawford said, but "somebody is on a witch hunt."
"I don't know where the witches are and I don't know why the hunt is on," Crawford said.
A reporter from the Fremont News-Messenger asked Crawford if he was directing those comments at the Register, which has not made any allegations or filed any complaint with Crawford or any other agency.
"I just wanted to verify, we're talking about the Sandusky Register, correct?" News-Messenger watchdog reporter Christina Smith asked.
"I'm not sure where that came from. I was shown an article today," the judge replied.
"Is it coming from the Sandusky Register?" Smith persisted.
"I get stuff online," Crawford replied. "As a matter of fact, I hadn't followed this until, you know, somebody called me and said there's an allegation and I didn't understand that. I think it was dealing with the clerk's office.
"The clerk's office did something wrong and then (attorney general prosecutor Matt) Donahue emailed me, I don't believe I talked with him on the phone, and (he) said he may be filing a motion and I said 'go ahead and file whatever motion you want.'"
The Register made a public records request Feb.18 for documents required by state law in jury, grand jury or special grand jury selections. The request was sent to Sandusky County Clerk of Courts Tracy Overmyer and copied to Crawford,
Overmyer initially responded that Crawford had sealed the records under a secret gag order. After consulting, the judge, the AG's office and Overmyer all later acknowledged, however, that Crawford did not have the authority to gag those records. The AG's office asked Crawford to review the record after it determined a violation likely occurred.
Donahue, on behalf of the AG's office, filed the motion March 25 informing Crawford that Overmyer failed to follow a requirement to give public notice about the Limberios grand jury. The motion mischaracterized the Register's role in the decision, inaccurately suggesting the newspaper made an allegation about the apparent violation that Donahue detailed in the motion.
Donahue, who like Crawford, drove from Columbus to attend the news conference, asked the judge to set aside the violation, citing another section in the Ohio Revised Code and arguing there was no evidence any grand juror was biased during the deliberations.
— FOLLOW THE LEADER
Crawford seemed to be following the example the AG's office set in suggesting that headlines in the Register and inquiries to public officials and records requests equated to allegations despite efforts to dissuade them of that notion. Crawford referred to a March 21 article in the Register under the headline "Tainted grand jury," which the AG's office on Monday alleged was inaccurate.
The article detailed the violation of the requirement that Donahue alleged occurred, which "tainted," the word used in the headline, the grand jury. The AG's office did not respond after the Register replied to an email from spokesman Dan Tierney requesting a correction to the headline. The headline appeared correct, by the definition of the word, Tienrey was informed. He was also told the Register would review it with him again if the AG's office disagreed with that assessment.
Tierney made a spate of requests on Monday for the Register to review previous articles for potential inaccuracies.They came after the Register sent out specific additional requests earlier that day to court officials, the judge, county commissioners, Tierney and the AG's office, the county auditor and the county administrator. The emails asked public officials to respond to earlier requests.
Crawford praised Team Ray Technologies, a vendor that provided the "random draw" required by statute, saying the company has likely saved county taxpayers money by providing an alternative software service.
"By the way," Crawford began. "This is a very excellent jury process used in this county and also probably saved this county over the years hundreds of thousands of dollars using this as opposed to what most counties use called Court View."
Team Ray Technolgies, a company in Bellevue, operates a service described previously by the the firm's CEO Ryan Ray as a "joint venture" with the clerk of courts office. Team Ray has been paid more than $324,000 since January 2010 in at least two arrangements for services with the clerk's office and the adult probation department, but it does not appear there is a written contract between the county and TRT/Rockware.
Some of the public records requests sent to county officials on Monday were followups on previous requests for public records related to the contracts and payments to Team Ray.
Ryan Ray has not responded to inquiries, and Overmyer has ignored questions related to the payments.
— THANKING THE ACADEMY
As he closed his news conference, Crawford gestured to Donahue.
Judge: "You give it your 100 percent?
Donahue: "I did, yes, Your Honor."
Judge: "Clerk, did you give it your 100 percent."
Judge: "Maybe you made a mistake?"
Overmyer: "There was no bias."
Judge: "Let me ask you a question: Do you know every statute in the state of Ohio?"
Overmyer: "Absolutely not."
Judge: "Alright. You'll make mistakes again and I'll make mistakes again."
The judge reiterated again that he did not understand the complaint in Donahue's motion asking him to affirm the grand jury, clarifying comments he gave the News-Mesenger last month that he suggested during the news conference were not accurately or properly reported by the Register.
"I don't understand what the complaint is," Crawford said. "I still don't understand it. If somebody could explain it to me please do so."
Geoff Mearns, a former federal prosecutor who was provost at Cleveland State University before becoming president at Northern Kentucky University in 2012, told the Register the selection process violation detailed in Donahue's court motion is designed to protect the rights granted in the U.S. Constitution.
"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," Mearns said.
The News-Messenger's questions all related to the Register's reporting and Smith was the only reporter to ask Crawford anything during the news conference.
The Register has made numerous inquiries to the public officials involved, including several to Crawford. Crawford never responded directly, but did forward the newspaper a message by asking Overmyer to convey information. Many of those inquiries, to Crawford and others, remain pending and others were replied to but contained answers that seem non-responsive to the questions being asked.
Crawford was unable to say when he would rule on Donahue's motion to affirm the grand jury.
"I haven't written anything, because, quite frankly, uh, I will," he said. "It will appease some people's minds if I write something and put it in writing."
Crawford complimented Smith during the exchange they shared.
"By the way, thank you for using that picture because I like that picture," Crawford told Smith. "I see my picture in the newspaper quite often."
Crawford and Doahue both were asked today to be guests on "Between the Lines," the Register's public affairs talk program.
David Pepper, the presumptive Domocratic nominee running against Attorney General Mike DeWine in November, is the guest on BTL at 5:15 p.m. today.
Watch the video of the news conference in the player below
Original article, March 8, 2014: Attorney General spokesman Dan Tierney inaccurately suggested the Register had made allegations or some sort of complaint that prompted Ohio Attorney General prosecutor Donahue to file a motion March 26 citing an irregularity in the selection process last year for the Limberios grand jury.
"The sources who made the allegations referenced in the motion are Andy Ouriel and Sandusky Register staff," Tierney wrote to the Register on Monday.
Reporter Ouriel nor the Register made any allegations, and that was reiterated to Tierney again Monday and earlier today. The Register is "not the source of the motion and is not responsible if information in it was misleading," Tierney was told.
The Register did not, nor did any member of its staff, file any complaint or make any allegations. The Register also did not request the AG file a motion or instruct anyone with the AG's office to take any action.
A public records request was made to Sandusky County Clerk of Courts Tracy Overmyer on Feb. 18 for public documents required in the fair and open grand jury selection statutes. The AG's office provided to the Register information it received from Overmyer in response to the records request.
Tierney became aware of the irregularity and other potential irregularities and he and Mike DeWine both were asked about those issues in recorded interviews. It was reiterated to both DeWine and Tierney that questions were not accusations or allegations, and the Register never asked the AG or any AG employee to take any action.
Tieney also stated on Monday that the headline "Grand jury tainted" over a story published March 21 in the Register and at sanduskyregister.com was inaccurate. He later appeared not to disagree with the Register's reply the irregularity represented a "taint" and the headline was accurate as written.
The "Tainted grand jury" news article detailed DeWine's motion to visiting Judge Dale Crawford that notified him of an irregularity. The motion asked Crawford to disregard it, citing a statute that addresses juror bias.
The fair and open statute in the Ohio Revised that wasn't observed — according to DeWine's motion — is designed to assure constitutional rights, according to Geoff Mearns, a former partner at Baker Hostetler in Cleveland, former provost at Cleveland State University and now president of Northern Kentucky University.
A violation of the public notice requirement is separate and distinct from the sub-section cited in the motion, Mearns said, which concerns bias or perceived bias of the grand jury among other issues. Tierney said prosecutors had no evidence that any grand juror displayed bias during the proceedings and deliberations.
It's unclear why Crawford asked for the news conference and it's unusual for a judge to make such a public statement about a pending matter before the court. Crawford did the same thing a couple of weeks ago when he gave an "exclusive" interview to another newspaper and appeared to refer to the motion from DeWine as a complaint.
The Fremont News-Messenger incorrectly stated the motions was in response to a complaint from the Register, but the Register did not make a complaint. Crawford told the News-Messenger: “It makes no sense to me where the complaint is,” Crawford said, according to the article. “If you find out what the problem is, I’d love to know.”
He also told the reporter that he had “been very busy,” and “quite frankly, it’s not something that’s at the top of my list to be doing right now."
On Friday he said he would probably review the motion over the weekend, but Kimmet — who announced the news conference — said Monday he did not know if a hearing on the motion had been scheduled.
Tierney also suggested previous coverage of the judge's comments in the Register were misleading and inaccurate. After an initial review, the Register determined the statements were not misleading but continues with Tierney other concerns he raised on Monday.
One item in the "Tainted grand jury" article not previously addressed was found to be incorrect after a review with Tierney. A grand jury called in December 2012 to review an Ohio AG investigation about the alleged sexual exploitation of a 21-year-old mentally ill inmate at the Sandusky County Jail was not a special grand jury.
That grand jury and the special Limberios grand jury both were no-billed.
Judges with pending cases or motions normally do not hold news conferences. Judicial code puts limitations on the practice.
A judge "shall not make any public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court, or make any nonpublic statement that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing," the code states.
The only allegation that has been made is the statement by DeWine's office in the pending court motion the public notice portion of the fair and open statutes was not followed. The motion does not address other potential irregularities.
The Register has reported the difficulties numerous families have experienced with Sandusky County officials and has discussed those concerns with Attorney General DeWine in detail, asking questions families have raised. Click on the links below to read more.
Read the Ohio Revised Code statutes governing grand jury selection: