Saturday, June 7, 2003

Piper refuses use of grand jury

Suggests review of Butler cases by independent group

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper on Friday declined a request by domestic relations and juvenile court judges to conduct a grand jury investigation of alleged criminal conduct in 10 cases. They had been either mentioned by Commissioner Mike Fox in his recent report criticizing the courts, or discussed at commissioners' meetings.

In a report titled "A Culture of Secrecy, Fear and Judicial Abuse," Fox had accused the two courts of tolerating violations of the rights of parents and children. He said he concluded from examining seven cases brought to his attention that the courts tolerated false testimony, excluded principal parties from hearings, failed to enforce court orders and allowed costly delays.

Domestic Relations Court Judges Leslie Spillane and Sharon Kennedy and Juvenile Court Judge David Niehaus disputed those charges and called for investigations by a grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice. They said they believed the investigations would exonerate them.

But Piper said he can't have a grand jury investigate cases just to prove that nothing inappropriate occurred.

"Using a grand jury for 'vindication' purposes would be a misuse of the grand jury system which must be reserved solely for the administration of criminal justice," he wrote in a letter to the judges.

He said his office had reviewed four of the 10 cases and three other cases the judges didn't mention and found no evidence of criminal conduct. In some of the cases, the statute of limitations has expired.

Because of an obvious conflict of interest, Piper would call for a special prosecutor to be appointed to convene a grand jury. He said he couldn't justify spending $175,000 on a special grand jury for these cases.

"We need to be careful on how we clog up the system with investigations," Piper said.

He said any allegations of judicial or attorney wrongdoing should be referred to the Ohio Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Conduct. The many issues of court policy and procedures raised by Fox could be studied by a neutral, independent group, he said.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised," Spillane said of Piper's decision.

Spillane and Fox both said they liked Piper's suggestion for a review of the cases by an independent group.


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