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Case Update - Supreme Court Edition

The Gang of Seven in Columbus was busy this week, handing down four major decisions on Wednesday, and then another three on Thursday for good measure.  Most of them are fairly significant decisions, too, so I'm going to break up the normal Case Update I do on Mondays.  Today we'll just cover the Supreme Court decisions; tomorrow I'll do the court of appeals cases.

Wednesday's batch of Supreme Court decisions included the one on Foster resentencing that I discussed last week.  Another one, of more limited value, was State ex rel. Dispatch Printing Co. v. Greer which requires a juvenile judge to hold a hearing before banning the news media's photographing of a juvenile defendant.  

Hall v. Banc One has implications for both civil and criminal cases.  The issue there was juror disqualification for cause.  RC 2313.42 lists ten factors which are "good cause" for challenging a juror.  The first nine are very specific -- e.g., the juror is related to one of the parties or attorneys, or employed by them, or is disqualified by reason of a criminal conviction, etc.  The last one is the catch-all "cannot be a fair and impartial juror."  In Hall, one of the jurors had two daughters who were employed by the defendant, which was one of the disqualifications in the first nine factors of the statute.  The judge denied the challenge for cause after determining that the juror could still be fair and impartial.  The Supreme Court said that was a no-no:  if the juror meets one of the first nine criteria, that's the end of the matter -- he has to be disqualified.  Denial of challenges under the last category are still reviewed for abuse of discretion, but disqualification under the first nine is automatic.

Thursday's big case was State v. Hassler, which held that a blood/alcohol test taken seven and a half hours after the accident -- well beyond the two hours required by the statute -- could be admitted into evidence at trial of an aggravated vehicular homicide case.  That case deserves extended treatment, and I'll do that on Wednesday. 

Another fairly significant case, although primarily limited to juvenile law, was In re C.S., which involves the issue of waiver of counsel in delinquency cases.  Justice O'Connor does an excellent job of reviewing the competing interests in the delinquency system:  rehabilitation of the child versus protection of the public from criminal acts committed by juveniles.  Complicating the issue of waiver of counsel is that the waiver is usually made by the parent of the juvenile.  The Court holds that (a) the juvenile cannot waive counsel if his parent or guardian is not present at the hearing, (b) although strict compliance with the waiver requirements of Juv.R. 29 is desirable, substantial compliance is all that is required, and (c) whether there was a valid waiver is to be determined from the totality of the circumstances.

In Leininger v. Pioneer National Latex, the Court held that a common-law cause of action for wrongful discharge from employment because of age didn't exist because a statutory cause of action for age discrimination was provided.  This might not seem consequential, but statutes of limitation for discrimination in employment are notoriously short -- six months, in most cases -- and oftentimes employees are not aware of the fact that they've been discriminated against until after that period.  In those cases, plaintiffs rely on "common-law" torts, which under Ohio law have a four-year statute of limitation.  That's what happened here, and that's what the Court nixed, despite the fact that it had seemed to suggest that just such an alternative was available in a summary reversal a decade ago.  Presumably, the same reasoning will apply to cases for discrimination on account of race or sex.  Especially in light of the US Supreme Court employment discrimination case this past spring, Leininger will have substantial ramifications in this area.  (By the way, if you do employment law, you'll want to check out Cleveland lawyer John Hyman's excellent blog on this subject.) 

Back in November of 2003, Dave Gross, a 16-year-old employee at a KFC, decided to clean out a fryer by putting water in it, despite repeated warnings not to do so.  When he opened it, the pressurized steam severely injured him and two other employees.  KFC canned him, but the court of appeals granted a writ of mandamus allowing temporary total disability benefits.  Last December, the Supreme Court reversed that in a 5-2 per curiam decision, holding that Gross' actions were more than mere inadvertence or negligence, and thus constituted a "voluntary abandonment" of his employment, meaning he wasn't entitled to benefits.

At which point, everybody else in the known world said, "Huh?"  After all, the entire workers compensation scheme is based on the idea that fault isn't a factor.  In an unusual move, the Supreme Court granted oral argument back in March on the limited issue of whether the employee's motion to reconsider should be granted.  In an even more unusual move, last Thursday the Court granted the motion to reconsider, vacated its previous decision, and affirmed the appellate court's decision that Gross was entitled to benefits, by the identical 5-2 vote. 

I'll have a review of important court of appeals decisions tomorrow.  We'll take a more extended look at the Hassell case on Wednesday, and on Thursday I'll examine Judge Hunter's decision to allow a polygraph result over the objection of the state in a Summit County case.  (I'll also post a link where you can download the decision.)  On Friday, I'll pitch a bitch about wasting time in court, and anything else that pops into my mind between now and then.

Have a good week.


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