Public Enemy No. 1

If Fred Nance is our most powerful, we're in trouble.

Fred Nance
You'll be glad to know that lawyer Fred Nance is officially the most powerful suit in town. So says Inside Business magazine, which ranked him at the top of its "Power 100" list this month.

True, Nance is an influential guy. As managing partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and head of the business group Greater Cleveland Partnership, his BlackBerry must read like a Most Wanted list of the city's most powerful players.

But if he's the biggest guy in town, please remember to turn out the lights when the last person leaves Cleveland.

Let's review: Nance was a close buddy of former Mayor Mike "I Left My Heart in a Safe Deposit Box" White, and his firm raked in at least $7.1 million in city business during White's dozen-year crime streak. Though he may have performed well for the mayor, his work on behalf of residents might best be described as Who the $%&# Hired This Moron?

Nance was the legal advisor for construction of Browns Stadium -- a project so rife with chaos and theft that the city has no idea what the final cost was.

He also represented the school district during Barbara Byrd-Bennett's Creative Accounting phase.

And, of course, he negotiated for the city when it bought the I-X Center for $66.5 million -- twice what the only other bidder was offering ["The Sweetest Deal," April 5, 2006].

Only two conclusions can be drawn from Nance's work: Either he was in on the scams, or he's the worst lawyer since Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. Now he's serving on advisory committees for Mayor Frank Jackson.

Punch's advice: Hide your good silverware.

The Kmart of justice
The Cuyahoga County justice system is about as well run as a keg line at Ohio State, wrote grand-jury foreman John Zayac in a scathing report to the court this month.

Beyond the usual problems of ineptitude, inefficiency, and wholesale waste, Zayac found that it takes longer to eat a sandwich than to indict somebody, and poor defendants who can't make bail are held in limbo behind bars for months.

But in case you're a visual learner, we'll draw a picture of how our vaunted legal system works:

Last April, police arrested 29-year-old Herbert Jack for an East Side gang shooting that left two men wounded. After fleeing the scene, Jack was seen by cops running from a van with a gun in his waistband. An eyewitness also ID'd him as one of the shooters. Case closed, or so it seemed.

But for some reason Jack was released without being charged.

That's when 19-year-old Robert Porter entered the picture. He was arrested two weeks later and, along with two other men, was charged with the shootings, based solely on interviews with the victims. Never mind that the same eyewitness who pegged Jack for the crime says Porter wasn't even at the scene.

Unfortunately, Porter couldn't afford the $100,000 bond, so he stayed in jail for eight months while Assistant Prosecutor Eleanor Hilow leaned on him to cop a plea. But last month, Hilow walked into court to declare a "my bad," admitting to Judge Dan Gaul that she had the wrong guys. The victims had changed their stories. Case dismissed.

"That just pissed me off," says Porter's mom, Jackie McNear. "He kept saying, 'Mom, I didn't do it.'"

Judge Gaul is even angrier. "There was a statement in the police report that identified someone else as being the shooter," he says. "If these defendants were from Westlake or Parma or Solon, believe me, there would be people screaming to get them out of jail."

Meanwhile, the alleged shooter, Jack, remains free and has yet to be charged. Cleveland Police Lieutenant Tom Stacho says cops did their best to get the right guys. "The information that we had was sufficient to compel a prosecutor to issue a warrant [for Porter]," he says.

Why doesn't that make us feel any better?

Starbucks gets kneecapped
Starbucks is known for many things, like superior coffee and comfy chairs. Cheap prices, however, were never part of the deal.

So when Starbucks announced that it would charge patrons $10 for internet access, more than a few considered this a rip-off. FON, by contrast, saw it as a marketing opportunity.

The WiFi company posted an ad on the web, inviting anyone who lived within a few hundred yards of a Starbucks to apply for a free router. These people would then sell $2 access to Starbucks' customers and split the money with FON. A day after the ad was posted, 900 people responded. "Awesome idea," one person wrote in. "I should move near a Starbucks," said another.

FON expects to hear from about 10,000 more. "For the geek community, this is really exciting," says spokeswoman Candace Locklear.

But we're guessing it isn't all that exciting for Starbucks, which didn't return Punch's calls. Analysts also believe the ploy will put a crimp in its plan to sell $30 free-range internet access.

Stop the homos, part 762
Downstate conservatives are uniting in an effort to drive off Ohio's two remaining gays.

In a letter last week, conservative group Citizens for Community Values pleaded with its members to rally against a federal bill that would hike the penalties for hate crimes.

CCV, you'll recall, is the Cincinnati Christian group that believes in a really mean Jesus and was behind Ohio's gay- marriage ban. The group also championed last year's failed gay-adoption ban, as well as 2005's attempt to deport any man who knows the lyrics to Phantom of the Opera.

CCV now wants members to ask their congressmen to vote no on the bill, but President Phil Burress says the effort had nothing to do with homos. "All crimes are hate crimes," he says. "A crime is a crime. It's unequal justice." He also argues that hate is protected speech. (After talking to Burress, Punch petitioned his editor for hazard pay.)

But CCV's letter ignores all other classifications protected by the bill -- race, gender, religion, the Baldwin brothers -- while only targeting homos. CCV complains that it "would create special protection and stiffer penalties for crimes motivated by someone's actual or perceived 'sexual orientation.'"

If CCV can't kill the bill, its lobbyists will ask for an amendment that at least protects its right to bitch about Will & Grace.

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