Sunday, September 05, 1999

Bully sheriff has met his match


Allen cuts GOP giant Simon Leis down to size

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Anyone who has been puzzled over the political firefight this week between Hamilton County's sheriff, Simon L. Leis, and the county prosecutor, Mike Allen, has probably forgotten about his or her schoolyard days.

        No matter where you spent your grade-school days, there was almost certainly a school bully nearby — some mean, socially maladjusted creep who would terrorize the rest of the student body. Ordering cower ing second-graders to stand and deliver their milk money. Snatching baloney sandwiches out of the hands of classmates. Tossing some poor kid's book report under the wheels of a school bus.

        If you knew such a bully, you also know the end of the story.

        There was, no doubt, one fine day on the playground with dozens of kids hanging around waiting for the bell to ring when the school bully picked on the wrong kid.

        Little Four-Eyes got tired of being shoved around and, in full view of the student body, popped the bully in the nose. The bully, nose bleeding, cried and ran home to his mommy.

        And that was the end of the school bully.

        For the better part of a quarter century now, Mr. Leis has had his way in the Hamilton County Republican Party. He was the one who sent the rest of the kids fleeing in terror.

        If you, like Mr. Leis, had

        held the three positions of county prosecutor, common pleas court judge and county sheriff, you too might be tempted to view yourself as the godhead of the criminal justice system.

        Mr. Leis' fellow Republican officeholders and party leaders certainly have. For many years, his word was law in the Republican Party. Lesser politicians fell prostrate before him; mere mortal politicians walked backward out of a room to avoid turning their backs to the Great Three-in-One.

        They had reason to fear. In most elections, Mr. Leis led the Republican ticket, pulling in more votes than any other GOP candidate, and sometimes running without opposition because the Democrats knew it was pointless to run anyone against him.

        But, sooner or later, things had to change. The new generation of Republican politicians here does not feel the least beholden to the Living Embodiment of the Law.

        The first chinks in the armor appeared four years ago, when the sheriff aimed his anti-porn lasers at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Kenwood and wanted to prosecute them for selling a magazine.

        Joe Deters, who was then county prosecutor and who was considered something of a Leis protege, basically told the sheriff to get a life.

        Now, there is a new prosecutor in Hamilton County — Mike Allen, someone whose resume is even longer than that of Mr. Leis. Mr. Allen has been a Cincinnati cop, an assistant prosecutor, a municipal court judge and chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

        Aside from going after criminals, one of the functions of the county prosecutor is to be legal representative of other county officials. When a county officeholder wants to sue, he needs to have the prosecutor do it for him. That's what the law in Ohio says.

        The law in Ohio says something else, in plain English your fifth-grader could read and understand: No sheriff or coroner shall practicer as an attorney at law in any court of this state.

        The county coroner, Dr. Carl Lee Parrott, has resisted the temptation to appear before the bar; he apparently has enough to do carrying out his coroner duties.

        But not our sheriff. After President Clinton came to Cincinnati July 23 for a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fund-raiser, the sheriff filed suit against the DNC to try to recover his department's overtime costs for providing presidential security.

        As it turns out, he also had filed another 40 or so lawsuits to recover training and equipment costs from former employees.

        Mr. Allen, who takes his job very seriously, blew the whistle, asking that the suits be dismissed because they were filed illegally. And, in the bargain, he fumed over the “sheer arrogance” of the sheriff's action.

        Republican Party leaders winced over Mr. Allen's tongue-lashing of the sheriff, but we suspect the rest of the kids in the GOP playground jumped for joy.

        Nobody will ever steal their baloney sandwiches again.

        Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

       



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