Visiting Judge Dale Crawford praised Team Ray, a vendor that provided the “random draw” in October for the Limberios grand jury, saying during a news conference Tuesday the company likely saved taxpayers money by providing an alternative software service at the courthouse.
“By the way,” Crawford said. “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 Technologies, 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. Team Ray has 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 the company.
The county has paid Team Ray $324,000 for court services since 2010.
Brock Kimmet, the Sandusky County Court administrator, said he didn't have any information about any contracts with Team Ray.
"I do not know what they consist of," Kimmet told the Register last week. "That process had already been initiated prior to my arrival."
Kimmet, the county auditor's office, the clerk of courts office, county commissioners and the county administrator all have been unable to locate a contract related to payments to Team Ray, the last of which was in March for more than $40,000.
It's not clear how Crawford determined the cost benefit of the Team Ray arrangement or whether he was shown contracts or other information when he reviewed it.
Ryan Ray, the company's CEO, has not responded to inquiries, and Overmyer has ignored questions related to the payments and provided disjointed and nonsensical documents in response to the previous public records requests sent to her. She referred another request to Kimmet, who has not provided a responsive reply.
Ray changed descriptions of the company at its website and removed references to the attorney general’s office that suggested an endorsement of its products and services, after the Register reported the information. The news report prompted the attorney general's office to order the references removed from the Team Ray website, calling them “deceptive advertising.”
— NO HITCH, NO WITCH
It was a “perfectly fine” grand jury nonetheless, Crawford declared, despite any mistakes that might have occurred.
“I am here today because people keep asking questions, and I keep hearing the wrong answers,” Crawford said at the start of his 30-minute news conference on Tuesday about the Limberios grand jury.
Crawford said allegations had been made, then said he “had great respect” for the media, but added, “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, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office or any other agency.
“I just wanted to verify, we’re talking about the Sandusky Register, correct?” News-Messenger watchdog reporter Kristina 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.’”
Donahue filed it March 25, informing the judge Sandusky County clerk of courts Tracy Overmyer failed to follow a state law that requires the court to publish in a newspaper a notice of the intent to form a grand jury.
He asked Crawford to affirm the grand jury despite the violation, saying there was no evidence any grand juror was biased.
The attorney general’s office discovered the violation after the Register made a public records request Feb.18 for the documents required by state law that governs jury, grand jury or special grand jury selections. The request for the records was sent to Overmyer and copied to Crawford.
Overmyer initially responded that Crawford sealed the records under a secret gag order. She, the judge and the attorney general’s office all later acknowledged, however, Crawford did not have the authority to gag those records.
— FOLLOW THE LEADER
During his news conference Tuesday, Crawford seemed to be following the example the attorney general’s office set, suggesting headlines in the Register and inquiries to public officials equated to allegations.
Crawford referred to a March 21 article in the Register under the headline “Tainted grand jury,” which the attorney general’s office on Monday alleged was inaccurate. The headline is not inaccurate.
Tierney, in an email to the Register a day before Crawford’s news conference, made a spate of requests for the Register to review the “Tainted grand jury” and other previous articles for potential inaccuracies. His email came after the Register sent out specific additional requests earlier on Monday to court officials, the judge, county commissioners, Tierney and the attorney general’s office, the county auditor and the county administrator.
The earlier emails from the Register to public officials asked for documents or asked them to respond to earlier requests for public records they had not addressed, including providing any contracts for Team Ray Technologies, the private company the county paid $324,000 for court administrative services since 2010.
— THANKING THE ACADEMY
As he closed his news conference, Crawford gestured to Donahue, DeWine’s lawyer in charge of the special prosecutions unit.
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 he did not understand the complaint in Donahue’s motion, calling it “hooey.”
“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 statutes Overmyer failed to follow that Donahue detailed in his court motion are designed to protect 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.
Crawford was unable to say, precisely, when he would rule on Donahue’s motion to affirm the grand jury.
“I haven’t written anything, because, quite frankly," he said, before appearing to shift while responding. "Uh, I will. It will appease some people’s minds if I write something and put it in writing.”
Crawford complimented the News-Messenger reporter during the exchange they shared at his news conference.
“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 Donahue both were asked Wednesday to be guests on “Between the Lines,” the Register’s public affairs talk program. Donahue replied he was reviewing the invitation. Judge Crawford has not replied.