Thursday, July 17, 2003

Butler site to drop Fox's report


Prosecutor says probe of courts not appropriate Web posting for county

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox's recent report accusing Domestic Relations and Juvenile courts of judicial abuse soon will be yanked from the county's Web site.

A recently issued opinion from the prosecutor's office says it's not legally appropriate for the Fox report to be posted on the county-financed site.

Law requires that material on a county Web site pertain to "plans, policies and operations," Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Roger Gates wrote in a letter to County Administrator Derek Conklin.

Because the commissioners have little legal authority over the day-to-day operations of the courts, the letter said, it "could be unlawful" for the commissioners to spend taxpayer money investigating whether the judges are performing their duties.

And, the letter continues, the report should not be on the county Web site.

Commissioners Chuck Furmon and Courtney Combs said they would vote soon to pull the Fox report from the Web site.

They also said they will follow Gates' suggestion that the commissioners formulate a policy for what material and links can be placed on the Web site.

Fox said he strongly disagrees with Gates' opinion about his report.

"In effect, it's a gag order," he said. "And it's selective."

He said other officeholders have posted material on their Web sites that doesn't meet Gates' standards.

Fox pointed out that Gates stated that the commissioners can investigative the operations of other officeholders to determine necessary funding allocations.

"My whole premise for this report," he said, "is that the courts are operating inefficiently, violating the fundamental rights of the people who come before them and are imposing costs on taxpayers and the county. It has everything to do with the budget."

Gates was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Furmon has wanted the Fox report off the commissioners' Web page because it's strictly Fox's project, not the commission's, and he disagrees with the report's conclusions.

Combs said the report has been on the Web site long enough.

"It's been on for 10 weeks," he said. "Anybody who wanted to look at it should have looked at it by now."

Fox personally investigated several complaints brought to the commissioners by citizens who claimed they received unfair treatment in Domestic Relations Court and, in some cases, Juvenile Court.

In his report, Fox concluded that the two courts tolerate false testimony, exclude principal parties from court proceedings, permit costly delays, fail to enforce court orders, deny access to transcripts and records, and block appeals.

The judges have disputed all allegations in the report.

After the commissioners raised questions about the two courts based on several citizens' complaints, Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy invited them to review boxes of court documents pertaining to the cases being discussed.

After reviewing some of the documents, Furmon and Combs concluded that there was no basis to the complaints. Fox spent several months investigating and issued his report in May.

"Removing the report from the Web site," Fox said, "does not in any way remove the very real abuses that are occurring in Domestic Relations and Juvenile courts."

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com




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