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Courts and Crime

Ohio Supreme Court cases include a lot of "wait 'til next year'
But the state high court did clear the way for Medicaid expansion to hundreds of thousands of Ohioans

Karen Kasler
Low-profile, but important cases, made up the Ohio Supreme Court caseload this year.
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There weren’t a lot of attention-getting cases before the Ohio Supreme Court in 2013. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports, the ones that did make news were big.

LISTEN: The really big cases before the Ohio Supreme Court

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The year started out with a case that seemed to have major implications on freedom of speech and religion in schools. Eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater was fired in 2008 for keeping a Bible on his desk and a poster featuring a Biblical verse on the wall after he was ordered to remove them from his classroom.

Faith or insubordination?
David Smith argued for the Mt. Vernon City Schools and told the Ohio Supreme Court in February that Freshwater’s actions – or inaction – was insubordination. 
“The principal had directed Mr. Freshwater to remove objects and he didn’t.” 

But Freshwater’s lawyer Rita Dunaway had argued that her client was teaching supporting and opposing views on evolution, and that’s what got him fired. 

“Here you have an ad hoc, non-policy based termination that is censorship and manifests religious hostility.”

The justices ruled the school district did infringe on Freshwater’s First Amendment rights by ordering him to remove his personal Bible, but said he was insubordinate for keeping the poster and other items. But the court did not rule on whether Freshwater was unconstitutionally teaching his religious beliefs, which dissenting Justice Paul Pfeifer said disappointed him.

Medicaid expansion gets the high court's blessing
When fellow Republicans in the Statehouse balked at expanding Medicaid, Gov. John Kasich turned to the state Controlling Board -- a panel of six lawmakers and his budget advisor. It OK'd the expansion, and conservative Republicans took that decision to court. It claimed the Controlling Board had overstepped its authority. But the supreme Court sided with the governor, and the expansion is about to begin.

The company car and child support

A few months later, the justices ruled on another big case – saying that employer-provided benefits such as a car, insurance, cell phone or even Ohio State football tickets should be included in calculating child support payments. Jeffrey Morrow of Medina had wanted to reduce his child support payments when his income dropped in 2009. But Tom Morris, representing Morrow’s ex-wife, told the court in arguments in June that benefits such as an employer provided car should count. 
“If you are given one to use at your discretion, then it absolutely should count because those are dollars that you do not have to spend on your own vehicle.”

Still coming up
In the coming months, the court is expected to rule on whether the state’s child enticement law is too broad, whether the city of Cleveland had the right to arrest peaceful protestors in who didn’t have a permit to congregate on Public Square.

And there is likely to be a ruling on arguably one of the biggest cases of the year – whether Progress Ohio, the conservative Ohio Roundtable and two Democratic state lawmakers have standing to sue regarding JobsOhio.

Both sides got the question:  “Who has standing to sue the state in a case like this?” Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative group, argued for Progress Ohio, and said potentially anyone in the state does. 
“It’s imperative in certain cases, including this one, that any Ohioans in their capacity as a citizen or a taxpayer have the standing to enforce the Constitution.”

But state deputy solicitor Steven Carney said Progress Ohio’s argument is dangerous and goes against years of established case law.

“They want you to throw away all that precedent, let everybody sue, as long as it’s a constitutional challenge. That’s their only limits.”

If the court sides with Progress Ohio, that could open the door for a final ruling on whether JobsOhio was a constitutionally-created entity.

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