Man Sues, Claiming Law Was Outdated
Tribune-Chronicle, November 15, 2003
240 Franklin St. S.E., Warren, Ohio 44482
By John Grant Emeigh, Tribune Chronicle, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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