In yet another example of how the law can sometimes be a complete ass, the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday (Oct. 26, 2010), in a 5-2 decision, upheld the constitutionality of a 2007 state law that mandates the firing of school employees who have “serious” criminal convictions in their past. In the case before the court the “serious” conviction was for drug trafficking in 1976, an incident which occurred 21 years before the employee was hired.
In Ohio (as in all other states) teachers have always had to undergo background checks, but the new 2007 law required that secretaries, janitors, bus drivers and other non-teaching school employees also had to undergo such scrutiny. When the law went into effect 23 long-time and loyal employees of Cleveland's Municipal School District — all with stellar work histories — lost their jobs.
The law, as it was drafted, left no wiggle room, it didn't include language which allowed for “case-by-case” reviews … it was blanket by design of the state legislature and the intent was not to make our children safer, but to further punish those who have made a mistake in their lives … no matter how long ago.
The State Board of Education, however, realized the law was Draconian in its construct and months after the employee in this current case was fired the Board issued a clarification which allowed school districts around the state to view instances of criminal conduct which occurred 10 years in the past to be judged by another standard; this ruling could have allowed the employee to keep his job. But not in Ohio.
Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp wrote, “Unfortunately, delay is often an inherent characteristic of the rulemaking process. The effect that the delay … had on [the terminated employee] career is regrettable.”
“Regrettable”? “Regrettable”? A life is ruined and all the Court can say is “Regrettable”?
In the frenzied aftermath following 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security was created. One of its first acts was to perform background checks on anyone working in a U.S. airport, root out any former felons, and fire them. It mattered not one whit if they were loyal citizens or not.
This resulted in the termination of a contract held by a man who supported his family with the earnings from his shoeshine stand that had been an airport fixture for over a quarter-century. You see, 30 years prior the man been busted with a joint in his car … he couldn't pass the background check and the new law left no room for mitigating circumstances.
When lawmakers leave no room for reason, compassion and plain commonsense they turn the law into an ass … and in the process make our nation a worldwide laughingstock.
Mansfield Frazier is a native Clevelander who serves as the executive director of Neighborhood Solutions, Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on myriad issues of importance to the urban community. A published author, he served as editor at a number of Cleveland weeklies before semi-retiring and changing over to Internet journalism in 2005. His column can currently be seen weekly on CoolCleveland.com and The Cleveland Leader. He also occasionally contributes to The Daily Beast and Cleveland Magazine. An avid gardener, he recently built a half-acre vineyard across the street from his home in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland, where he resides with his wife Brenda and their two dogs, the rambunctious Ginger, and the aging and increasingly cantankerous Miss Gypsy.