Last edited: November 19, 2003

Man Sues, Claiming Law Was Outdated

The Tribune-Chronicle, November 15, 2003
240 Franklin St. S.E., Warren, Ohio 44482
Fax: 330-841-1717

By John Grant Emeigh, Tribune Chronicle,

WARREN—A local man is seeking $10 million from the city in a federal lawsuit that claims he was charged and convicted twice on an outdated law.

Attorney Randi A. Barnabee filed the federal suit Wednesday in Cleveland on behalf of Keith E. Phillips. Phillips was convicted twice on misdemeanor charges of importuning in Municipal Court after the Ohio Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional.

Barnabee claims his client’s civil rights were violated and is seeking punitive damages against the city, Municipal Court, attorneys Marc Dann and Benjamin Joltin and others.

“My client was arrested for a law that didn’t even exist,” Barnabee said Friday.

Phillips was arrested in December 2002 and again in April 2003 for offering sexual favors to teenagers. The victims were 14 years old and older in both cases. He was convicted both times of misdemeanor importuning before Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gysegem and was sentenced to limited jail time in each case.

The suit states that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in May 2002 that part of the importuning law was unconstitutional. Based on that ruling, the Ohio Legislature had a paragraph pertaining to that law removed from the Ohio Revised Code.

The part of the law that was found unconstitutional and deleted stated, “No person shall solicit a person of the same sex to engage in sexual activity with the offender, when the offender knows such solicitation is offensive to the other person, or is reckless in that regard.”

The part of the law that remains in effect makes it illegal to offer sex to anyone younger than 13 years old.

Barnabee said Phillips was convicted on a city law that is directly based on the now unconstitutional state law. Phillips was not aware that that law was deleted from the Ohio Revised Code when he pleaded no contest to them.

Gysegem found him guilty on the first charge on Dec. 18, 2002, and gave Phillips a suspended sentence of 90 days in jail. In May, Phillips was charged with a felony importuning offense for offering sex to a 14-year-old boy. His attorney during that case, Joltin, advised him to plead no contest to a reduced misdemeanor count of importuning, according to the lawsuit. The judge sentenced him to 180 days in jail.

Barnabee said the court and attorneys were negligent for convicting Phillips on an obsolete law.

Joltin said Phillips was charged with the proper crime.

“He was charged under the felony section, which is still constitutional,” Joltin said.

Gysegem said he believes Phillips was properly charged in both these cases. He added that if the defense had a problem with the charge, Phillips’ attorneys should have filed a motion at the time. That never happened, the judge said.

“It’s not my job to go out and find out this stuff out,” Gysegem said. “That’s up to his [Phillips’] counsel to do that.”

Regardless of the law change, Gysegem said he believes Phillips was given the right charge.

“He has a habit of pulling his pants down around young boys, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s still illegal in the state of Ohio,” Gysegem said.

The suit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells in Cleveland. The federal court had not responded to the suit’s demand for a jury trial as of Friday afternoon.

The suit claims Phillips lost his job due to the convictions and is seeking punitive damages.

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