Wednesday, February 25, 2009

State of the City

I attended Mayor Mark Mallory's "State of the City" address this evening. (Text here, courtesy the Enquirer.) I'm not sure how the speech will read, but I can tell you that the mayor's delivery made clear that his top priority this year is the streetcar proposal.

Mayor Mallory isn't typically a fire-and-brimstone kind of speaker, but he got downright fiery when he talked about the streetcar. In fact, that was probably the only thing he got fiery about. He noted the development and investment streetcars brought in Tampa, Charlotte, and Seattle, and insisted that the "naysayers" not be permitted to "derail" the project.

There was also an interesting moment towards the end of his address. Mallory spent much of his speech recognizing and thanking various community leaders. In discussing the uptick of convention business last year, Mallory thanked Chris Smitherman for his leadership with respect to last summer's national NAACP convention. While the mayor was, I think, trying to be gracious to the man who has very recently become one of his most outspoken critics, it was clear that the audience wasn't sure how to respond. While the other individuals Mallory mentioned got rounds of applause that were fairly robust, the response to the mention of Smitherman was fairly tepid.

All in all, a good night for Mallory, I think. (And by the way, he affirmed that the "first" phase of the streetcar plan is to include the uptown connector.)

A postscript: I just saw on the late news that Monzel, who delivered the "Republican response" (or just a response?), took the opportunity to reject the streetcar proposal. It's not a new position for him, but makes me wonder: has the HamCo GOP officially staked out an anti-streetcar position? As our regular readers know, I remain ambivalent about a streetcar plan, but would be surprised if the GOP were going to foist an anti-streetcar platform on its five candidates this fall, as I'm not sure it will help them. (And Republican Councilmember Ghiz, if I recall correctly, voted for the streetcar.) And if the party doesn't have a position, then something's amiss: if Monzel was giving a truly "Republican response," then why would he set out his personal position, rather than the party's positions?

Interestingly, Jane Pendegrast suggests that Monzel was to speak for the GOP (quoting Chair Alex Triantafilou as saying that the "opposite party" hadn't given such a response in a while), and Triantafilou refers to the remarks both as "Chris Monzel's response" and "our response." So for whom was Councilman Monzel speaking this evening: just himself, or the entire HamCo GOP?

CincyPAC on 55KRC

This past Sunday night City Talk Radio's 2nd half of the show included members of CincyPac and gave a basic overview of the organization. On the link you can find a podcast of the full show, including an interview with the team behind "Cooking with Caitlin," which according to the show will appear weekly on Fountain Square over the summer.

On CincyPac I am still not really sure of its purpose. Their website does list out a description. I don't know that it helps me understand the ultimate goal. If they are a PAC and are about raising money to elect candidates, then I get it. The mission then would be to get cash in into the campaigns of candidates who favor "YP issues". Getting money is hard business, but it is a focused goal that can be completed in many ways, but those methods are quantifiable.

If the organization is trying to be an issue advocacy group that has a social component, then I don't get it. I don't have a problem with that type of group, but that will open it up to a bureaucracy that will slow them down and likley hamper efforts to get people to give money to the PAC to then give to candidates. Where the problem may come in is when money comes into the PAC, what portion will be given to candidates and what portion will go to Issue Advocacy and the social component? I don't have a problem with trying to be more than one thing, I just want the goals to have a clear hierarchy. Who is going to get most of the contributions is a key element to know prior to giving a contribution.

The debate on what "YP issues" means is another big contention that is so very debatable. That hurts the group partially because it is a vague goal and one people are going to have a hard time wanting to support. PACs do better when they have one goal, where the reason for giving money is singular, like Emily's List. There is not a single YP issue to focus on, but there needs to be clearer message on the issues being considered, if getting money is the goal. A focused message will be the only way to get significant contributions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Supreme Court Decisions Not Always About "Politics"

A brief diversion from Cincinnati blogging for a moment of blawging.

Today, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Hayes, in which the Court was called upon to determine what Congress meant by "a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." The facts are simple: in 1994, Randy Edward Hayes was convicted in a West Virginia court of battery. (In Ohio, we'd call it assault.) The victim was Hayes's wife. In 1996, Congress amended the Gun Control Act to make it unlawful for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to own a firearm. And in 2004, Hayes was found to be in possession of a firearm and charged with violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g), a crime that carries a possible 10-year sentence.

Hayes's lawyers moved to dismiss the indictment. After all, he wasn't convicted of domestic violence--he was convicted of battery. But the district court construed the federal statute's definition of "crime of domestic violence" broadly, ruling that regardless of whether the crime of which Hayes was found guilty required proof of a domestic relationship, Hayes could be prosecuted under federal law if the federal government could prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the victim and Hayes shared a domestic relationship back in 1994.

Eventually, the case made its way to the US Supreme Court. I know what you're thinking. It's a criminal case. The "liberals" will bend over backwards to help him beat the rap. The "conservatives" will want to lock him up and throw away the key. A moderate or two will decide Hayes's fate. Because federal law is all about politics, right? Well, it's good you thought that, but you're wrong.

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold the conviction. The Court's decision was written by (wait for it) Justice Ginsburg. The two dissenters? Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia. The majority concluded that Congress, when it wrote "crime of domestic violence," meant to include any crime that could be domestic violence, regardless of whether it was charged or prosecuted that way. The Chief Justice (with whom I agree) argued that such a construction strains logic. He also argued that since the statute is ambiguous, any doubt has to be resolved in favor of the defendant (a concept known as the rule of lenity).

So for those of you (on either the left or the right) who insist that Supreme Court decision-making is just politics in another arena, remember cases like this. While the justices no doubt have ideological views that shape their rulings, they are, in fact, striving to uphold the rule of law, not just to further a particular political cause.

And finally: don't wring your hands too much over Randy Hayes's fate. He wasn't sent to prison; instead, the judge sentenced him to five years' probation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

McCafferty Trial Raises Interesting Media Issues

The Enquirer describes an ongoing dispute between the local media and the Campbell County (Ky) Circuit Court over whether and to what extent the media should be permitted to broadcast the trial of Cheryl McCafferty, who is accused of murdering her husband.

Based on the Enquirer's reporting, it appears that the following happened: Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward initially agreed to permit Dateline NBC to tape the entire trial, and then to broadcast it (in all likelihood, condensed to run in an hour) at some later time. Dateline set up its cameras and subsequently agreed to act as something of a pool photographer, with their video being fed live to a television set up in a media room in the courthouse.

Apparently, the local media then announced its intention to pick up the pool feed and either broadcast it or "stream" it (broadcast it on the internet) live. It seems others intended to blog the trial, perhaps even from the courtroom. Judge Ward determined that live coverage was not in the interest of justice (the Enquirer doesn't tell us why), and pulled the plug on everything, ordering Dateline out of the courtroom and banning all electronic devices.

The situation raises interesting questions about what the right to a public trial really means. (Remember, the public trial right is not just--or even primarily--about the press's right to cover a trial, but is instead about the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to be publicly tried). I have little doubt that Judge Ward can do exactly what she's done: ban all recording devices from her courtroom. Assuming that Kentucky law doesn't provide otherwise, the federal courts have declined to recognize a right (either for a criminal defendant under the Sixth Amendment or the media under the First) to have a publicly broadcast trial. That's why federal courts remain off-limits to televised trials. Whether such blanket prohibitions are a good idea is a question I leave unanswered at this time.

I'm also fairly certain that Judge Ward could impose limits on the methods of "broadcasting" a trial. I would expect a judge to seriously consider banning live-blogging a trial from a courtroom. This isn't because "bloggers" or journalists who blog are somehow less important, but instead because of the disruptive effect people typing on their cellphones or laptops could have during trial. The jury could be distracted by this, and could also start to believe that when it sees a member of the media typing away, something important may have just happened. It's not clear, however, why the judge would ban live-blogging the video feed from the media room, where the court would not be disturbed.

I'm not sure, however, that Judge Ward can do what I think she might like to: permit Dateline NBC to record the proceedings but prohibit live broadcasts. This is far from my area of expertise, but it seems that once the court opens the proceedings to cameras, it has to permit the media to do as it wishes with the video. If that means live TV coverage or live streaming on the web, then so be it. Moreover, it's not clear what the fear is: that the jury would be tainted when it goes home at night? Jurors are supposed to avoid contact with those who would try to discuss the trial with them, and the law presumes that jurors follow their instructions. And if that's really a fear, then the jury should be sequestered: nothing the judge can do will prevent the local media from reporting on what happens (and in some cases, likely mis-reporting what happens) each day.

Of course, that's just my tentative take and I haven't taken the time to research the issue. But it's an interesting conundrum the court and the media have created, nonetheless. And one has to feel bad for the jurors, who were in court for all of ten minutes today. Hope they brought their Sudoku.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Streetcar Debate

Just over a week ago, advocates for the Streetcar held a debate at UC about the Streetcar plan. Here's the video:

The video is from via Bearcast Radio.

I as of this point have not watched the debate, but there is coverage from the CincyStreetcar blog, Urbancincy, and Start Working, Start Living.

Since I couldn't attend and haven't watched the video yet, I will reserve judgment. If you were there, how did it go?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Regional Media or Cost Cutting?

Why was this article from Louisville Courier-Journal listed in the "Latest News" section on the front page of the Enquirer's website?

This is a valid news story, but if the Enquirer felt it newsworthy for Cincinnati area readers, why not have a story from their own site, instead of one from a Sister publication?

I find this a way to push a more gripping news story without having to pay a reporter to do anything. I'm torn by the this practice. I want local news, including near by cities. This is regional, something I would like to get more of in the form of statehouse news from Columbus. Getting crime news from Louisville is only a little bit more relevant to Cincinnati than watching a car chase from Miami, FL on WLWT-TV 6PM News.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Charter Reform: The "Blago Amendment"

From this week's CityBeat, we learn that Councilmember Leslie Ghiz is proposing a charter amendment that would end the practice of filling mid-term Council vacancies by appointment. As we all know, the current process is that each Councilmember designates a "proxy" who has the responsibility of choosing his or her replacement should he or she vacate the office for any reason mid-term.

Over the last several years, it's become increasingly common for term-limited councilmembers to resign mid-term, permitting their appointed replacements to run as incumbents in the fall election. Ghiz proposes--gasp--elections instead.

I think Ghiz (pronounced with a hard "g'"--get your mind out of the gutter, folks!) has got this issue exactly right (or nearly so). This practice of early resignation to make room for hand-picked successors has become an abusive practice. (And I say this as one who is, frankly, delighted to have Greg Harris on Council, particularly as a replacement for Cranley.) The last few election results make clear the power of incumbency in Council elections, and politicians should not be able to bequeath their seat to their favorite Facebook friend (or whatever other criteria is used).

The criticism from HCDP Chair Tim Burke--that elections are expensive--is misplaced. First, that's life in a representative democracy. But his critique also misses the mark: if the "Blago amendment" passes, term-limited councilmembers will stop resigning early (unless they have a better job offer--and even then, there would be party pressure not to leave prior to November). So there wouldn't be a flurry of midterm elections; instead, there would be a flurry of elected officials fulfilling their commitment to voters.

Nonetheless, I wouldn't mind seeing the proposal altered slightly to include some sort of "25th Amendment" exception. If a councilmember becomes gravely ill or dies while in office, it might make sense to fill the position by appointment. The test could be simple: a majority of council would have to vote to certify that the departing councilmember is incapacitated due to illness or death. That would trigger a proxy appointment, and eliminate a lengthy time period during which Council might operate with an even number (there's no procedure in the current Charter to break a tie vote). Because even though it's fun to call this "the Blago amendment," no one is suggesting that anyone has sold or tried to sell a Council seat. But the rearrangement of the deck chairs just prior to elections is distasteful; Ghiz's proposal would end that, and an illness or death exception honors her intent.

This is a good proposal from Ghiz, and one I'll vote for if it makes it to my ballot this fall.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cincinnati Magazine's Top Ten Restaurants

Oh, boy, do I have issue with this list. Thanks to @ChasingPolly for so kindly typing this out in 140 characters or less.
4.Via Vite
10.Riverside Korean

Let’s compare to last year, shall we?

New to the list: Riverside Korean, Via Vite and Hugo.

Off the list: Pigall’s (I assume because it’s closing, I guess they got that detail in right before going to print), Jo An and JeanRo Bistro.

Though JR Bistro is still open, I wholeheartedly agree that it’s not one of the top ten restaurants– and wasn’t last year. The meals I’ve had there in the past few years were mediocre at best.

I am so glad to see some real ethnic food– not just fusion– on the list. Though Cumin is good, it’s not “authentic”, and I think that very well prepared, authentic cusine that isn’t Italian, French or American should be included, and Riverside would be my choice. I like Jo An, but I like Riverside better. It’s an old favorite. I’ve actually eaten at all of these restaurants except for Nectar. Friends have recently gone to Nectar and enjoyed it as well.

I’ve never quite figured out how these top ten lists work. I confess that Terry and my Top Ten Barbecue is completely and utterly subjective; and this top ten list is too. How is Orchids better than Nicola’s (Nicola’s would be my top, if anyone’s asking). How did Boca fall to 3 from the top spot last year?

And, most importantly, how in the WORLD is there no Jeff Ruby restaurant on the list? The Jeff Ruby’s Jewel was rated the top steak in the country, better than all of those top Chicago and New York steakhouses, and it doesn’t even get a mention in the Cincinnati Magazine top ten? I just don’t get it. The food is always great, the service is always stellar. It’s not delicate food, and it’s not chef-owned, but it’s a place I know I could take friends or clients and they’d be equally happy. I’d be poor, but everyone would come away happy. Someone suggested that it was because it was a "chain", but it is no more a chain than Jean-Robert's restaurants were (and, I suppose, Wade's restaurants are).

What would be #1 on your list?

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Restaurant Coming on Seventh

I'm a little late with this (Queen City Survey noticed it about two months ago), but there's a new restaurant preparing to open on Seventh Street downtown. Gilpin's Bagel & Deli will be nestled into the space next to the former Gondola, on the block between Vine and Walnut.

Gilpin's has a MySpace page (someone should tell the owner that unless his target market is fifteen-year old girls, he'd be better off with a Facebook group). Gilpin's promises to be "upscale, modern, affordable, healthy, and fast." (Geesh, that's a lot of pressure for a bagel.) Apparently, music, movies, and video games will all be part of the ambiance. As for music, the owner promises "soothing" music in the morning, a DJ at night, and "what[ever] we like on our Ipod that day" at lunch. And hopefully, the soundtrack on the website won't ever be played in the restaurant.

I'm looking forward to a bagel!!!

Hartmann Weighs In On HCSO Budget Mess

Yesterday, I suggested that HamCo Sheriff Simon Leis needs some help in the public relations department. It seems that help won't be coming from within his own party. Today, Republican HamCo Commissioner Greg Hartmann piles on with an open letter to Leis in the Enquirer.

Hartmann is critical of Leis's refusal to use money from drug forfeitures to save deputies' jobs. The most pointed part of his letter is probably this:

You have stated that lives are at risk, and we take you at your word. However, you have also demonstrated that you are unable to make the necessary decisions in your operation to protect public safety. Now, I have to.

Those are tough words indeed from one Republican official to another. And one has to respect Hartmann immensely for going public. After all, as the sole Republican on the Commission, he could just as easily sit this fight out and blame the Democratic majority later on for not fixing the public safety budget.

Hartmann also proposes shifting responsibility for all courthouse security to the Clerk of Courts, leaving Leis free to redelegate the funds he would have spent there to patrol and corrections. (Commissioner Portune has endorsed this suggestion.) If anyone other than Hartmann had offered this as a potential (partial) solution, I'd wonder how the Clerk's budget could absorb this. But until a couple months ago, Hartmann was the Clerk of Courts. If anyone knows where money can be squeezed out of that budget, it's Greg Hartmann.

Certainly, Hartmann will have ideological differences from his Democratic counterparts on the BOCC. But it's good to see Hartmann constructively offering suggestions--and his colleagues paying attention. Hartmann brings a skill set and knowledge base previously lacking on the Commission, as he is the only member who has experience working in the criminal justice system. (Before being elected Clerk, he was an assistant prosecuting attorney.) In that regard, his voice should be heard loudly and often in discussing local criminal justice reforms. Often, when I hear or read proposals from Portune or Pepper that touch on the criminal justice system, it's clear that (although they're certainly well-meaning) the two have little or no experience with criminal law. And while I'm sure Hartmann will often bring a pro-government point of view with which I won't always agree, I'm glad to see someone with practical insight helping to make policy.

The commissioners need to continue to set aside partisan differences, where possible, in order to best serve the community in these tough times. And it looks like the newly constituted Commission is off to a good start.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


As I was looking for an old blog post that I wanted to link to, I came across several older posts with predictions and realized how smart I really am. (Heh heh.)

I predicted the Bengals would finish 6-10 (they were 4-11-1--not too far off).

I predicted Driehaus's victory.

I wished (but didn't predict) that Greg Harris could be on Council instead of John Cranley. (An aside here: I'm glad that Harris is now on Council, but am presently a bit disappointed with him. Nearly a week ago, I emailed him regarding a matter that seems to be important to him, and haven't gotten a response--not even a "sorry, it's really busy, hope to answer you soon." I know it's got to be tough getting use to the faster-than-you'd-think pace of the life of a Councilmember, and I'm just a dumb blogger. But I am voting in November.)

Of course, I also predicted that Martha Good would win, that the Portune-Rothenberg race would be close, that Groppe would retain her office, and that Obama would win far fewer states than he actually did.

So I got the easy stuff right, and missed wildly on the tougher questions. Maybe I'm not so smart after all. Just lucky. What's that expression about the sun shining on a lame dog's ass.....?

UPDATE (2/16/2009): I just received an email from Greg Harris indicating he didn't receive the email I sent. So I'm resending my email, and my prior "disappointment" has now been vanquished.

Why Don't I Ride The Bus? And Would I Ride The Streetcar?

I've lived in Cincinnati since 2000 (with one year away while I worked for a federal judge). In all that time, I've never used public transportation in Cincinnati. During brief periods of time that I've been without a car, I didn't go to SORTA's trip planning page; I dialed 411 and found a cab.


It's certainly not an aversion to public transportation. I grew up in Buffalo (until I was 14) and Pittsburgh (for high school), and in both cities rode the bus frequently. I spent a few years in Chicago, where I rode both the bus and the "el." I lived in New York for a summer, and reveled in busses, trains, and subways there (in fact, I had an unbreakable "never drive in Manhattan" policy, and was too impoverished to take cabs). And on visits to D.C. and Moscow, I've happily used public transportation.

Some of the problem, no doubt, is lack of familiarity with bus routes in Cincinnati. If I wanted to catch a bus to Hyde Park from downtown, for instance, I have no earthly idea how to do it. Some of it is discomfort with Cincinnati's geography generally: if it weren't for my Tom-Tom, I might still be wandering around the West Side after my most recent excursion there.

But lack of familiarity can't explain it all, can it? Certainly, the first time I was in NYC, I had no idea how to get to Yankee Stadium from midtown Manhattan. But somehow, I found the "D" train and got there in time for a game.

In Cincinnati, unlike in other cities, public transportation isn't widely embraced. Had I told friends in Chicago of plans to drive from the dorm (in the South Side) to Wrigley, they'd have been incredulous. During law school in Cincinnati, had I told friends of plans to take a bus from Clifton to the ballpark, I'd have been greeted with blank stares.

Downtown is small enough that I can walk anywhere. I live at the western edge of downtown, and have no trouble walking to the courthouse or the Justice Center, both on the eastern edge. One fun night a little while ago, a companion and I had dinner at Palomino's (sorry to you chain-haters), walked to Music Hall for a concert, and then walked over to Kaldi's. And I ended up getting back to my apartment (near Tina's) on foot. Of course, the weather was nice that night.

If I leave downtown, I drive. I'll admit it: I don't even think about the bus. A few weeks ago, I spent all day at the UC College of Law for a seminar. That would have been a simple trip. (According to SORTA's tripfinder, I should have caught the 18 at Government Square and taken it to Clifton and McMillan. The trip would taken 12 minutes, required a half-mile of walking, and cost $1.50.) But as much as I hate finding parking in Clifton, I didn't even think about the bus.

As the streetcar debate rages on (presently fueled largely by the folks over at the Beacon), I wonder, would I get my ass on public transportation if it were a streetcar instead of a bus? Probably not so much. I might use the downtown "circulator" to get around downtown (instead of walking), but I doubt I'd use the downtown-Clifton connector instead of getting in my car. The thought of standing on a corner in ten-degree or ninety-degree weather to catch a streetcar just doesn't appeal to me. (Add in the other factor--that once I was at my destination, I'd be limited to traveling to other locations along the proposed streetcar's fairly limited route, or face a bus-or-cab choice.)

So what about y'all? Every time I've been even remotely negative about the proposed streetcar, you yell at me in the comments. If you're one of those who do, do you take the bus now? If you don't, will you use a streetcar? And why use the streetcar when you won't use the bus?

We've got to think this stuff through before we make the major policy decision that light rail represents.

Sheriff Leis Needs Some P.R. Help

The war of words between Commissioner David Pepper and Sheriff Simon Leis is escalating. Jessica Brown blogs the exchange here; and here is Leis's most recent missive, with Pepper's responses. As far as I can tell, the Sheriff is losing the battle of public perception. People seem to think that he is being intentionally inflexible, taking a "my way or the highway" approach and engaging in a high-stakes game of chicken that threatens public safety in this county.

That one-dimensional image of Sheriff Leis may make it easier for some to hate the guy who's gotten stuck laying off an unprecedented number of police officers. But I don't think it's accurate. Leis has been in public service for a long, long time. Everyone who knows him (I do not) indicates that he cares deeply about this community, and is passionate about his job. When he's recently made public statements about the difficulty of sitting across from a deputy and terminating his employment, I've felt that he genuinely hates laying people off.

Unfortunately, the Sheriff isn't giving me much evidence with which to back up my give-the-guy-the-benefit-of-the-doubt approach. Leis says he can't give up helicopter operations. Why? What does the helicopter do? How does it improve public safety? Pepper wants Leis to use funds from asset forfeitures to fund deputies' salaries. Why isn't this possible? (I thought there were statutory constraints on the way that money was spent, but Pepper doesn't seem to think so.)

Leis did a good job, in his recent letter, of explaining why he can't just fire people with "desk jobs" instead of those on the streets: the former, as it turns out, perform functions--such as concealed-carry licensing, sex offender registration, and fingerprinting--that the State requires the Sheriff to carry out. But both Pepper and the FOP (the union that represents the sheriff's deputies) have petitioned Leis to cut the salaries of "double dipping" members of his administrative staff (those people who have already "retired," so now both earn a salary and collect a pension). Leis's only response has been to point to County Administrator Pat Thompson and note that he hasn't been asked to take a similar pay cut. Thompson's salary is certainly worthy of scrutiny (one of these days, I like to research whether--as some have suggested--Thompson has financially benefitted from the deep cuts to the County budget). But "you're as bad as I am" doesn't sound like a responsible response. Why can't administrators (who are also collecting pensions) take pay cuts? In a better economy, I might be concerned these folks would leave for greener pastures. But if Leis forces a pay cut on them, where would they go?

I hope some day soon, Leis writes an op-ed for the Enquirer explaining why his budget is as lean as he says it is. Because for the time being, those of us who believe he's a good guy who wants to do the best job possible for the citizens of this county are having a tough time defending him.

(Finally: if you're ever discussing HamCo's budget nightmare and someone mentions the Sheriff's tank, just walk away. That person doesn't know what s/he's talking about. The County acquired the tank for free. And the Sheriff hasn't spent any money training on it since sometime last year, when it became clear we were in serious economic trouble. The tank is a red herring that has nothing to do with the current crisis.)

UPDATE: I had not seen this Enquirer article before I published this post. But my questions about the helicopter and double-dippers remain largely unanswered.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ohio Firm Threatens Internet As We Know It

Last year,, a website that tracks real estate transactions in various parts of the country, noted that two attorneys had (separately) purchased properties in Chicagoland. In reporting the transactions, Blockshopper linked to the attorneys' profiles that were on the attorneys' law firm's website.

Well, either the attorneys or their firm didn't like that the sales were so widely reported. To an extent, it's difficult to blame them. Although real estate records have always been public, they have been easily accessible for only the less decade. (Maybe it's not a good idea that any Hamilton County homeowner's address can be ascertained on the Auditor's website. But that's a post for another day.)

Being attorneys, they couldn't just dislike something. And it doesn't hurt that they work for one of the largest law firms in the nation, Ohio-based Jones Day Reavis & Pogue ( So the firm did what any lawyer, faced with a bad economy, does: it created work for itself by becoming its own client in a lawsuit. The firm claimed that the practice of direct linking constitutes trademark infringement.

I'm an expert on neither trademark law nor internet law, but every account of this lawsuit I've read leads me to believe the claim was laughable. Part of the usefulness of the internet is its connectivity, and we all use "embedded links"--that is, creating a link that takes a reader to another page, although that other page's web address is not displayed as part of the link.

Laughable or not, David cannot always slay Goliath. Blockshopper finally waved the white flag after spending over a hundred thousand dollars in legal fees. Its settlement with Jones Day calls for Blockshopper to cease using embedded links; instead, in linking to Jones Day pages, it will always do so by diplaying the website address in a parenthetical, as I did in the second paragraph, above.

The Jones Day suit and settlement is a threat to every website and blog on the internet. Any corporation or individual with sufficient funds can now attempt to force those who write things they don't like to alter or take down their content by bastardizing trademark and unfair competition laws. It's hard to imagine how Jones Day's mark was diluted by Blockshopper's use. But that's exactly what they claimed. And after expending what was likely thousands of hours of attorney time, it bullied the small website into an arrangement that makes writing about Jones Day more inconvenient and time consuming (and less readable).

Links: The Plain Dealer; Citizen Media Law Project

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another Candidate in for Council Race

Just when you had enough of politics, election season is fast approaching. Tony Fischer comes across as someone the Democrats Nationally view as viable future candidate. The problem is that he is unknown. Nearly everything I know about Tony Fischer is in the blog post, so check out his website to learn about him: (He is pro-Streetcar!)

Tony is an Iraq vet, which normally in politics is going to get you votes. He'll get some attention for that, but in a Cincinnati Council race, where are those votes going to come from? Is he going to target the Westside and Eastern areas of the City: Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout and Mt. Washington? All of those areas would tend to have residents who may not agree with all of his positions as a Democrat, but they are more likley to vote for him because he served in Iraq. What neighborhood(s) are Fischer's logical base?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cincinnati Sports History

The Enquirer is conducting a survey, asking readers to choose the most memorable or iconic picture in Cincinnati sports history. What's absent is perhaps as interesting as what's included.

My guess is that the "winner" will be some moment in Red history. My first thought upon reading what the survey was about was Pete Rose running over catcher Ray Fosse in an All-Star Game. Of course, I've only lived in Cincinnati for the past eight years, so my take on what's memorable or iconic is no doubt different that what a lifelong Cincinnatian will remember.

What did I expect to see that's not included in the Enquirer's offerings?
  • A better picture of Marge Schott
  • An "action shot" (i.e. on the court) of Oscar Robertson (yes, I saw the shot of Robertson in street clothes)
  • A Ken Anderson Superbowl TD
  • A mugshot of any of the Bengals
What do you think is missing? What's there that surprises you (for me, it's all the high school athletics)?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Heartless Bastards On TV Tuesday

Set your VCR DVR: As Griff told us last month, the Heartless Bastards will be on the David Letterman Show Tuesday night. For the truly uninformed, the show is on CBS following the late local news.

It could well be a show with high ratings, as the only other announced guest is the crew of Flight 1549. (Rumors are that ComAir intends to start landing planes in the Ohio to generate similarly positive press.)

Anyhow: make sure you watch the Heartless Bastards in their network television debut. Maybe they'll let Captain Sully sit in....

I know, I know, music is Griff's beat. I'll go back to writing about more boring things now.

Why Not A Public Safety Bailout?

For a few days, I've been thinking about a Peter Bronson column and blog post from last week, in which our favorite pundit suggests that the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners should be seeking stimulus money for the construction of a new jail. And I can't help wondering: doesn't he have a point?

First, let's take care of debunking the all too familiar Bronson histrionics. From the column:

Records show that inmates with more than 100 charges against them were "let go" in the past month. DUIs, drug possession, indecency and other relatively minor crimes are first in line. But some were charged with assault, resisting arrest, breaking and entering, domestic violence, theft and menacing.
When I toured the jail last July, long before the budget cuts, I met two dozen nmates. Only two were marijuana cases, and it wasn't their first rodeo. The rest were a citizen's nightmare: assault, burglary, domestic violence, attempted murder, drug trafficking, aggravated robbery ...
Two points:
1. Judges often set own-recognizance bonds for assault and domestic violence cases in which the only witness is the prosecuting witness, particularly if an officer sees no sign of injury and issues a referral rather than signing a complaint him- or herself. "Theft" can be shoplifting a candy bar. And menacing sounds really bad, but it's actually a fourth-degree misdemeanor--the least serious offense for which imprisonment is an option. So how many "sheriff releases" would have been required to post a cash bond if they had seen a judge? Tough to know, and Bronson doesn't help us to extrapolate the number in any meaningful way.

2. Bronson's July jail tour isn't at all representative. For one thing, he toured the jail (according to that column) alongside Public Defender Lou Strigari while Strigari was making the rounds for felony arraignments. So guess what? Bronson met accused felons; aside from B&E, all of the crimes he describes in the first paragraph I quote are misdemeanors. For another, until it closed, Queensgate was a facility designed for low- and medium-risk inmates. That meant that Bronson would only meet the highest security risks (typically, those with the most serious charges lodged against them) in the Justice Center.

Now that that's out of the way, let's move to the meat of Bronson's column: that stimulus money could or should build a new jail for Hamilton County. On the surface, the proposal makes sense. A jail facility is a public works project. In the short term, it would create jobs (in the construction trades). And there's bipartisan agreement that Hamilton County's jail facilities are currently inadequate.

Bronson's proposal does not, however, solve other critical public safety problems. It does not restore the recently laid-off sheriff's deputies. The County would still need to find a way to finance the operation of a new jail (and corrections officers to staff it). While the Democrats had wanted to provide stimulus funds to put cops on the streets, the only way to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate was to strip those provisions out.

So Bronson's has the hint of a good idea: federal money could be sought to build the jail that a majority of voters have been thus far unwilling to finance with locally generated tax dollars. But without a plan to fund the operation of the jail, we could be spending millions for an empty building (see Queensgate for an example of a jail that lacks operations funding). Maybe Bronson's ready to unveil the rest of his plan to get us a working jail with federal funds. But he hasn't done it yet.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Public Records Act Requires that Public Records Be Public

It's always frustrating to me anytime I find myself agreeing with HamCo GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou when he rants against local Democrats. But he's right on the money when he argues that the Cincinnati School Board has crafted a wrong-headed, probably illegal plan to shield applicants for superintendent from public scrutiny.

The Board is once again searching for a superintendent. As the Enquirer reports, the Board has decided that it will receive all applications in a post office box rented specifically for applications. The Board's plan is to leave the applications in the box, removing them as late as possible. It will then take "a reasonable time" to respond to Public Records Act requests for copies of the applications; presumably, "reasonable" means "after the decision has been made by the Board."

This is a bad idea that will probably subject the Board to a mandamus action it cannot win. The Ohio Public Records Act (R.C. 149.43) is broadly written and contains only specific, enumerated exceptions. Our Supreme Court has ruled time and time again that there exists in the law a presumption of disclosure; a public records custodian (such as the Board) has the burden of showing why a record should not be disclosed. And the Board knows that once it's in possession of an application for the superintendent job, it's a public record subject to disclosure. That's why it came up with this scheme to delay "possession" of the materials.

The Public Records Act ensures Ohio citizens that government is at least somewhat transparent. In my civil rights practice, I routinely use the PRA to gather records to determine whether a client has a claim that I can help him or her pursue; the records often provide valuable insight into the actions of government officials or the process by which they arrived at a particular decision. Journalists use the law to gain access to documents for stories for which politicians won't go on the record. Researchers use it to comply statistics.

There may be good reasons to shield superintendent applications from public view. The last time you looked for a job while you were employed, didn't you worry about your current employer learning of your job search? The potential for a superintendent candidate to be outed to his or her employer is a strong disincentive to apply. But our legislature has not recognized that interest as compelling enough to justify an exception to the PRA. And until it does, our school board needs to comply with the law.

Arguing that records in the Board's mail box aren't public because the Board doesn't really "possess them" is a lot like the Bush administration arguing that Gitmo detainees have no rights because they aren't on "American soil." The Supreme Court laughed that defense out of court, and the Ohio Supreme Court, if called upon to do so, will laugh the Board's twisted semantics right out of Columbus. Let's not dilute the laws that are meant to protect our rights as citizens.

Best of Cincinnati Voting Ongoing

The good folks at City Beat are working on their annual Best of Cincinnati issue. You can vote through March 1st here. The Cincinnati Blog is nominated; given the number of very, very good local blogs, I'm not going to be so presumptious as to campaign for your vote. But you should vote for someone in that category, if you're a regular blog reader.

It's always fun to check out the nominees in each category (and you can write in a candidate in any category as well). Some categories are simply too unfamiliar to me to justify a vote ("Tattoos/piercing," for instance). Others seem so broad as to be difficult to cast an informed vote: how many people have been to enough concerts to truly judge which was the "best" in Cincinnati last year?

A couple of my picks: the CAC as a place to take a visitor; Smith Muffler (which appears to have been written in) as best car repair; and Music Hall as best concert venue.

Oh, yeah: I also voted for Randi Rico for weathercaster. I'm hereby initiating a grassroots campaign to have Randi voted Cincinnati's best weathercaster. As I've written before, don't mess with Randi.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

New YP Kitchen Cabinet

The key word on the announcement of Mayor Mallory's YP Kitchen Cabinet leardership team is "New". I only recognize one person, and that is because I am friends with her. I've long criticized the many various YP efforts in this city because the groups tended to be run by the same people. Other than my friend who is a great choice for her role, I don't know the other leadership. That is good! On the other hand, ff they don't know anything about the City and were picked because they are being groomed by the powers that be, then we will get more of the same from the YPKC.

Also, unless this group is given funds to actually take action and hold their own events, then this is all just PR for the Mayor, that doesn't do a lot to promote the city and make it more attractive to YPs.

It Snowed, Again!

As someone who grew up an hour South of Buffalo, NY, I have always been amused by the way snow is viewed in the Cincinnati. I get that people are just not used to driving in it. I would think that since we just had two days of driving last week that I would say were must more hazardous, a certain percentage of people might have learned something. My experience last does not indicate many people learned much.

I must point out one big point to people who are driving on the interstate at 20 mph with no one in front of you for miles and with the road actually cleared of a large amount of the snow that has fallen: it can't be safer under the circumstances, so you can go at least 40 mph!!!!

On my 2 hour 45 minute drive home from Mason last night, I was passing people, left and right on I-71 once I got South of the Norwood Lateral. There would be clumps of cars going 20 or 25 and I would pass them by at 40 mph like they were standing still. The people who were going 30 mph in the left lane to pass the person going 20 in the center lane, who was trying to pass the person going 10 in the right lane just don't see how they block traffic because they don't pass with effective level of speed to keep everyone moving along.

I am more and more understand why it is better for many people to just not drive when it snows. When I say it snows, I mean it snows more than 1 inch. I think Chirs Smitherman, COAST, and the Green Party of One might want to get a petition drive going to make that part of the City Charter. If they are going to be extreme, why not be extreme with something that might actual make life easier for everyone!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cincinnati Imports - Meet Up!

The gang at Cincinnati Imports has organized a meet-up event on February 12th at the Oakley Pub & Grill. The event starts at 5:30, but should go on for quite a while, if I know the blogging community like I do.

The event is open to everyone, not just transplants to Cincinnati. The website is about making it easier for people to meet other people in Cincinnati, so if you have lived here your entire life, or are a returned ex-pat, come on out and meet a diverse group of smart and interesting people.