Last month, Ohio became the first state to make that whole innocent-till-proven-guilty thing optional in its crackdown against perverts.
The new measure is modeled after Megan's Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register their addresses so neighbors know about the sick bastard down the street.
But this being the Ohio Legislature (motto: Where no idea is too weird) people can now directly lobby judges to place anyone on the sex-offender list -- regardless of whether they've ever been convicted. Proponents say it brilliantly streamlines the justice system by removing all those pesky rules about demonstrating guilt, etc., which have been henceforth decreed "a pain in the ass."
Punch tried to get a better read on the legislature's thinking, but when we called committee members who framed the rules, no one remembered the meeting. (Yes, these are the people charting our future.)
But state Senator Marc Dann has a word for the law: "sham." It was proposed by Catholic bishops, who needed a way to quiet victims of clergy abuse and keep scumbag priests out of prison. That's What Jesus Would Want. But it comes with an added bonus: If that weird neighbor has been giving you trouble, simply tell a judge he molested you.
"I would hope people have more respect for the judicial system than that," says Dann, who may be committing a felony by using "respect" and "judicial system" in the same sentence. Though he favors lifting the statute of limitations for sex crimes, the bill may be much ado about nothing. "Frankly, I think what's going to happen is that people are just going to ignore this."
That may already be the case in Columbus. Attorney General Jim Petro did not return calls seeking comment.
Uncle Toms red hands
Speaking of weirdness: Say what you want about Secretary of State Uncle Tom Blackwell, but the guy gets an A for effort.
A state elections law passed in January allows poll workers to demand that voters not born in the United States prove their citizenship -- even if they've been living in America most of their lives.
So a group of foreign-born U.S. citizens, including former First Lady Dagmar Celeste, sued Blackwell, claiming the rule violated their constitutional rights. But Uncle Tom's reaction was a bit surprising.
Of course it violated the Constitution, he admitted. He even agreed that the law should be overturned. Unfortunately, Uncle Tom's about-face was more like a last-second ass-save. Though he knew the law was unconstitutional, his office had already prepared forms for poll workers to challenge voters' citizenship come November.
"If he thought the law was unenforceable from a constitutional standpoint, I don't know why he drafted forms to implement the law," says elections attorney Jennifer Brunner, who's running to replace Blackwell as secretary of state. "It's just plain un-American."
While most would agree that only Americans should vote in American elections, the law would screw mostly older immigrants, who arrived here as children and no longer have their naturalization documents. As it stands, they will have to prove their citizenship within 10 days of an election for their votes to count. And since ethnic people tend to vote Democrat, Republican legislators figured it was a nice way to negate perhaps a few hundred thousand votes.
Among the banished would be a good chunk of aging Clevelanders, not to mention Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis' sisters. The women, who were born in Greece, arrived here in the 1950s with their parents. "They've been here for 50 years, and have raised their families here, and have multiple college degrees," says Rokakis. "They would be turned down 'cause they can't put their hands on papers that are probably 40 years old now.
"In a business that is admittedly filled with people that are duplicitous and known for flip-flopping," he adds, "[Blackwell] really sets a new standard."
Unless your architectural taste runs toward Shattered Window or Boarded-Up Factory, Cleveland isn't the most scenic city. So when the Census Bureau recently estimated that some 50,400 people have fled Cleveland since 2000, some civic leaders began to rethink our ghetto-fabulous appearance.
Take graffiti, for example. Councilman Michael Polensek says the gang scrawlings that plague his Collinwood neighborhood make the area look like "downtown Baghdad." He recently wrote a letter to the mayor's office requesting that the city restart a graffiti cleanup program that died with Jane Campbell's budget cuts.
Already frustrated by the city's slow response to graffiti -- why act now, when there's so much left to deteriorate? -- Polensek threatened to take matters into his own hands. He was particularly upset about graffiti that encourages people to perform intimate acts with police.
"Since I cannot get this kind of crap removed," he wrote, "I guess I need to go buy a can of spray paint myself and spray 'F-- the East 156 Street Gang' signed, 'the Councilman.'"
Now that's what we call Believing in Cleveland.
Perv in the house
In 2004, the University of Akron placed drug informant Richard Dale Harris in Charles Plinton's dorm room. Never mind that Harris was 35, with a lengthy history of theft, domestic violence, and child endangerment. The cops promised him $50 a pop to rat each person who tried to sell him drugs.
Harris, being an enterprising criminal, decided it was way easier to simply lie to police than catch dealers. So he claimed that Plinton sold him drugs. Though Plinton was found not guilty, he was still kicked out of school. He committed suicide in December 2005.
Maybe it's just Punch, but you'd think the school would have learned its lesson.
Unfortunately, its latest misadventure comes in the form of one Stanley Smith, hired as a residential assistant for the fall semester. It might be safe to say he's unsuited for the role, since he was recently indicted for raping and kidnapping a fellow student. His trial begins September 14.
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