Untraceable: Why law enforcement knows the number of missing DNA profiles, but you don't

From Lancaster Eagle Gazette

The public may need to know, but they don’t have the right to know.

An investigation into collection lapses revealed Ohio’s DNA databank is missing thousands of profiles, potentially denying or delaying justice in unsolved crimes.

The data detailing the shortcomings in Ohio’s DNA collection for arrested and convicted felons can’t be released to the public, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office.

Despite the value of holding the biggest offenders of failed DNA collections accountable, the data isn’t being released.

Here’s why.

Understanding who has access and who doesn't

Information requested from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation — which would outline the number of DNA profiles missing from the databank — would have required the compilation of data in a report that doesn’t already exist. Ohio’s Sunshine Law doesn’t require public offices to create new reports to satisfy a records request.

The data is housed in what’s called the Negative Offender DNA Flag Report, which is an application found in the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway. BCI maintains the private police database and also Ohio’s Combined DNA Index System or CODIS. The DNA profiles in Ohio’s databank are also then uploaded to the national databank system.

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Advocates call for anti-SLAPP laws to protect domestic violence victims from frivolous lawsuits

From NBC4

Ohio has had 91 domestic violence-related fatalities over the last year, according to advocates who are calling for lawmakers to do more to protect victims.

The Ohio Domestic Violence Network compiled data from 69 cases mentioned in media reports from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018. A gun was involved in 71 percent of those incidents, according to reports.

Advocates say the state needs to do more to educate Ohioans about domestic violence and prevent it.  

Bridget Mahoney, the chair of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, is a former news anchor, who is also a domestic violence survivor.

“I left my position in northeast Ohio to move to Cincinnati, Ohio, to try and get away from it and it only made it worse,” Mahoney said.

She said the state is not doing enough to protect its people.

“The way that we are going to bring those numbers down is through prevention, education, awareness and belief of the victims,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the only way that prevention and education happens is through funding.

“Pennsylvania, right next door to the east of us, $15 million dedicated each year to [domestic violence]. The average state $7.5 million; Ohio… zero,” Mahoney said.

She wants a line item in the budget to fund prevention and education efforts.

Mahoney also wants lawmakers to stop dragging their feet on two pieces of legislation currently in front of them that could make life better for victims of domestic violence.

One bill would recognize strangulation as domestic violence, something the state currently does not.

You are seven times more likely to be killed by your partner if they strangle you, according to the organization.

The other bill would create anti-SLAPP laws to protect victims from frivolous lawsuits meant to discourage them from speaking out.

Despite support for the former bill, neither is anywhere close to passing.

Mahoney says they just aren’t a priority for the party in power at the Statehouse.

New bill would finally tear down federal judiciary’s ridiculous paywall

From Ars Technica

Judicial records are public documents that are supposed to be freely available to the public. But for two decades, online access has been hobbled by a paywall on the judiciary's website, called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), which charges as much as 10 cents per page. Now Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced legislation that would require that the courts make PACER documents available for download free of charge.

The PACER system has been on the Web since the late 1990s. To avoid using taxpayer funds to develop the system, Congress authorized the courts to charge users for it instead. Given the plunging cost of bandwidth and storage, you might have expected these fees to decline over time. Instead, the judiciary has actually raised fees over time—from 7 cents per page in 1998 to 10 cents per page today. Even search results incur fees. The result has been a massive windfall for the judiciary—$150 million in 2016 alone.

Critics like the legal scholar Stephen Schultze point out that this is not what Congress had in mind. In 2002, Congress required that the courts collect fees "only to the extent necessary" to fund the system. It obviously doesn't cost $150 million per year to run a website with a bunch of PDFs on it. Despite that, federal courts have used PACER revenues as a slush fund to finance other court activities. For example, one judge bragged at a 2010 conference about using PACER funds to install flatscreen monitors and state-of-the-art sound systems in court rooms.

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Ohio State football probe didn’t attempt to recover deleted texts

From The Wall Street Journal

The day Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave over his handling of abuse allegations against a longtime assistant, he asked a colleague how to delete old text messages from his university mobile phone, outside investigators hired by the university said in a report released last month.

Yet the legal team investigating Mr. Meyer’s conduct, led by former Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White, decided not to send Mr. Meyer’s phone to a forensics lab to determine if he actually destroyed evidence, according to two people familiar with the matter.

… Jack Greiner, a Cincinnati-based lawyer who specializes in media law, says Ohio State’s records-retention policy requires saving correspondence that isn’t transitory–not including, for instance, a text message saying you’ll be home late–for at least one year.

“A blanket practice of deleting texts violates the records-retention policy on its face, which therefore constitutes a violation of the [state] statute,” Mr. Greiner said.

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Bill would keep secret how much revenue individual retailers get from SNAP

From The Rural Blog

The House version of the proposed Farm Bill contains a provision that would overturn a court ruling allowing the public to see how much Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) revenue a retailer gets in a year. The National Newspaper Association, the main lobby for weeklies and small dailies, says the grocery industry and big-box stores are pushing the proposed exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has been fighting in court for seven years to get the data. After a federal judge said it should get the data, the Department of Agriculture didn't appeal, but the Food Marketing Institute, the grocers' lobby, did so. It argued that releasing the figures "would cause some SNAP retailers substantial competitive harm," and/or "public stigma," the Argus Leader reported. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected those arguments, a month after the House Agriculture Committee included the exemption in its proposed Farm Bill.

NNA President Susan Rowell, publisher of the Lancaster News in South Carolina, told senators in a letter, "Community newspapers see considerable public interest value in USDA’s annual SNAP retailer data. The public availability of this information would enable journalists to probe many aspects of the SNAP program that should concern Congress, such as existence of food deserts, particularly in the rural and highly urban areas; possible food stamp fraud, which a skilled journalist might detect from dramatically disparate utilization of the benefit between similarly‐situated retailers; development of new capabilities by certain retailers who have begun to welcome SNAP beneficiaries, such as new freezers, dispensers and displays; and competitive pricing among locations where SNAP beneficiaries might be able to stretch their resources further."

Rowell also said the Farm Bill is not the place to amend the FOIA. "The gravest danger to transparency and accountability by the citizen-shareholders of the U.S. government is the piecemeal erosion of FOIA from year to year by individual interests hoping to gain their own particular shelters for records," she wrote. "As users of FOIA, community newspapers believe that only serious, the demonstrable and specific harms resulting from disclosure legitimately qualify for FOIA exemption."

NNA has circulated a briefing paper on the issue and urged its members to contact the Senate's Farm Bill conferees: Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and fellow Republicans John Boozman of Arkansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Joni Ernst of Iowa; and Democrats Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

State slow to release records about CVS contract for HIV drug program

From The Columbus Dispatch

The Ohio Department of Health says it isn’t purposely delaying release of documents related to a mailing last year that could have publicly identified 6,000 HIV-positive Ohioans. But others have their doubts.

It has been more than 10 weeks since The Dispatch requested records relating to the department’s decisions that led to the mailing by CVS, which undertook the work even though the department’s request for proposals said the state would handle it.

But so far, the Department of Health hasn’t provided those documents. Nor has it said why it signed a deal making CVS pharmacies the exclusive recipient of $8.1 million in annual federal HIV drug assistance, when some experts say the arrangement disrupts the care some patients are getting.

The 2017 mailing to all the participants in the Ohio Drug Assistance Program sparked outrage because just above recipients names was printed “PM 6402 HIV” — an egregious violation of patient privacy, critics say.

Ohio Open Records laws require that “all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly prepared and made available for inspection.” Yet a July 2 request for copies of emails, texts and other written communication relating to the mailing remains pending.

Spokesman Russ Kennedy last week said that the health department “has been working on your request which required program staff to review thousands of their emails to identify communication with CVS, and then review each to redact any protected health information (while also fulfilling their regular job responsibilities) ... I noted that process had been completed, and Legal staff had begun reviewing the emails/written communications to ensure that (personal health information) has indeed been redacted. Legal’s review of these records continues — I have asked them whether we can at least give you the records for which they have completed their review, and I’m awaiting a response.”

Terry Kilgore, a Cleveland-area attorney isn’t buying it.

“They’re stonewalling you,” said Kilgore, who is suing CVS in federal court on behalf of three anonymous HIV patients whose status may have been made public by last year’s mailing. “There’s no good reason for them not to give you that information.”

The administration of Gov. John Kasich, which controls the health department and the Ohio Department of Medicaid, does a lot of business with CVS. In addition to the HIV program in the health department, CVS is pharmacy-benefit manager to four of Ohio’s five Medicaid managed-care plans — meaning the company controls billions in annual spending on prescription drugs.

The Dispatch’s Side Effects investigation helped prompt a Department of Medicaid analysis in which its consultant said CVS and OptumRx are billing the department far more than than the going rate.

Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling was asked whether the governor was OK with how long the Department of Health has taken to respond to questions about the CVS-HIV mailing.

“Each agency handles their public records requests, and I know Health is always particularly careful because of the sensitivity of their work,” he said in an email. He added, “As you know, the governor’s office doesn’t get involved in any contract of requisition decisions. Never have and never will.”

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis on Friday reiterated his company’s earlier statement that his company has addressed the issues that led to last year’s problematic mailing.

Cleveland Heights Charter Review panel nixes Sunshine Law proposal

From The Plain Dealer

Unable to concur on a "prescriptive" or "aspirational" approach to open government, the Charter Review Commission has set aside a proposal to add a "Sunshine Law" provision to the city's home-rule constitution.

Also finding its way to the scrap heap was an earlier proposal to assign each of the seven at-large City Council members separate geographic districts to deal directly with residents in their neighborhoods, initially seen as a compromise to any possible ward representation.

Introducing her revised open meetings provision on Aug. 16, CRC member Carla Rautenberg noted that the charter, adopted in 1921, has been referred to as the "DNA" of the city.

"That's why I think it's so important to have the Sunshine Law in the charter," Rautenberg said of draft language proposing that the city "meet and exceed" state requirements for open meetings that date back to the post-Watergate era.

This would have included keeping minutes of all "committee-of-the-whole" meetings, although it was noted that council now recordsthem, even after the "home-rule" charter withstood a Sunshine law challenge and appeal that the Ohio Supreme Court has declined to hear.

Arguing that the city already has a "boatload of transparency," CRC Chairman Jack Newman questioned whether Rautenberg's proposal needed to be embedded in the charter.

"What conspiracies have succeeded because of the system we have?" Newman asked.

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Political nonprofits must now name many of their donors under federal court ruling after Supreme Court declines to intervene

From The Washington Post

Advocacy groups pouring money into independent campaigns to impact this fall’s midterm races must disclose many of their political donors beginning this week after the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to intervene in a long-running case.

The high court did not grant an emergency request to stay a ruling by a federal judge in Washington who had thrown out a decades-old Federal Election Commission regulation allowing nonprofit groups to keep their donors secret unless they had earmarked their money for certain purposes.

With less than 50 days before this fall’s congressional elections, the ruling has far-reaching consequences that could curtail the ability of major political players to raise money and force the disclosure of some of the country’s wealthiest donors.

In an interview, FEC Chairwoman Caroline Hunter said that the names of certain contributors who give money to nonprofit groups to use in political campaigns beginning Wednesday will have to be publicly reported.

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Attorney: Geauga Park District did not violate Sunshine Laws

From The Chagrin Valley Times

An attorney argued Tuesday that the Geauga Park District Board of Commissioners did not violate Ohio’s Sunshine Laws at their meeting last month when the board allegedly discussed in executive session a resident’s request to speak at the meeting.

Todd C. Hicks, an attorney with Thrasher, Dinsmore and Dolan and the Burton village solicitor, briefed the board on a 5th District Court of Appeals decision to uphold a trial court’s ruling that Bolivar Village Council did not violate Ohio’s Open Meeting Laws, also known as Sunshine Laws, when the council discussed a resident’s request for public comment in executive session.

The facts in that case, he said, are similar to allegations of sunshine law violations against the park board stemming from the board’s August meeting.

On Aug. 8, Protect Geauga Parks President Kathryn Hanratty sent an emailed request for public comment to the three park commissioners and Executive Director John Oros. At the Aug. 15 board meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss the purchase of property. When the board returned from executive session, they said they had nothing to report, and later in the meeting, Board President Andrej Lah stated that the board would not allow Ms. Hanratty to speak. Protect Geauga Parks has been critical of the district’s elimination of public comment at their meetings.

According to Ms. Hanratty, she asked Mr. Lah after the meeting when her request had been discussed, and Mr. Lah responded that her request had been briefly discussed in executive session.

“That’s not the reason they went into executive session, but it’s a violation of Sunshine Laws,” Ms. Hanratty said following the Aug. 15 meeting. “It’s not something they can discuss privately and it’s a fairly big decision to make without allowing the public to know why you made it.”

Similarly, on May 19, 2014, Bolivar Village Council voted to go into executive session, and prior to adjourning Irvin W. Huth asked if the public would be permitted to speak after the executive session, according to court documents. Bolivar Mayor Rebecca Hubble advised that the general consensus was no, but that she would let council make that decision after executive session. Following the executive session, Mayor Hubble announced that public comment would not be allowed.

On May 18, 2016, Mr. Huth filed a lawsuit alleging the village council had violated sunshine laws, and the trial court dismissed each count of Mr. Huth’s complaints on March 6, 2018. Mr. Huth filed an appeal, and on Aug. 27, 2018, appellate judges Patricia A. Delaney, Craig R. Baldwin and Earle E. Wise Jr. upheld the trial court’s decision that no violation had occurred.

“Essentially (the court of appeals said) to have a sunshine law violation, you have to have two things. You have to have deliberations in an executive session, but the second part you need is some official action on the part of the public body, meaning the passing of a rule, an ordinance or something else. And what both courts found was that a decision to not allow public comment, or to allow public comment, does not rise to the level of an ordinance or rule or some other official action. That’s an administrative decision, and therefore no violation occurred, even if that decision was discussed outside of a public meeting or in executive session,” Mr. Hicks said.

In an interview following the meeting, Protect Geauga Parks Trustee Dave Partington, who had not yet reviewed the case cited by Mr. Hicks, said “I don’t see (the Bolivar case) as relevant. Our question is, (the board) had an attorney with them the entire time and you made a decision. And you made a decision in private that’s not appropriate for executive session. (Last month) Mr. Lah said ‘We agreed.’ Well to me, either you held a formal vote or an informal vote, but agreement is agreement and you did this and you didn’t do it in public and you should have.

“This again is a total lack of transparency, and they didn’t have to do it this way,” Mr. Partington said. He continued that Protect Geauga Parks would be reviewing Mr. Hicks’ assessment and the Bolivar case with their attorneys.

Ohio Supreme Court allows newspapers to review Rhoden family preliminary autopsy reports

From The Columbus Dispatch

The preliminary coroner’s autopsy reports released Wednesday in the eight, unsolved Pike County homicides of the Rhoden family included one revealing piece of information: Christopher Rhoden Sr., the victim who had been shot the most times, was shot through a door.

Multiple investigators previously had told The Dispatch that their belief was that Rhoden, who was killed in his own home, was awake the night of the shootings and had seen his killers approaching.

The rest of the one-page, individual autopsy reports provided little new information in the mysterious case that has lingered for 2 1/2 years, other than revealing specifically how many times each person was shot.

In addition to 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr., the victims included his ex-wife, with whom he had reconciled, Dana Manley Rhoden, 37; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; their daughter, Hanna Rhoden, 19; Frankie’s fiancée, Hannah Gilley, 20; Chris Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin to Chris Sr. and Kenneth.

All were shot to death overnight on April 22, 2016, in four separate homes in rural Pike County. Authorities have always said they suspect multiple killers.

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