Crime, the economy, the environment were all on the docket of the Ohio Supreme Court in 2011. And while the justices agreed on a lot, one of them made a very public and somewhat surprising decision of his own. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reviews the year before the high court.
The high court ruled on several cases related to business in 2011. In June, the justices split on a ruling in favor of a worker who'd claimed he'd been fired in retaliation for reporting a workplace injury to his employer. Jeffrey Silverstein represented Dewayne Sutton, and said Sutton was "pre-emptively discharged" to avoid a lawsuit.
"We think that that really opens up an entire can of worms and creates a chilling effect for employees to even bring these concerns to the attention of their employer."
Later in June, the court ruled unanimously that if an employee who's told at the time of hiring that he needs to get a particular license or certification but doesn't with a reasonable time frame, he can be fired and would be ineligible for unemployment. And in September, the court upheld the three year limit to sue auto insurers when uninsured motorists are involved in car crashes.
The court has heard many cases involving laws on sex offenders in the last few years, and 2011 was no exception. The justices heard at least two cases related to the Adam Walsh Act, which reclassified sex offenders into three tiers. Jay Macke represents one of those offenders.
"The amount of money that's been spent by local governments dealing with reclassification has been astronomical. Millions and millions of dollars that aren't on the state budget, but they're on the local budgets. Hopefully we're coming towards the end of that."
The justices also ruled unanimously that if two kids under 13 have sexual contact and neither is impaired or forced, the statutory rape law can't be applied. The court also ruled in several cases relating to local governments. In July, the justices unanimously said people can't go around demanding public records and then suing for damages if they've been destroyed. And in June, the court stepped into a dispute in Stark County, where Treasurer Gary Zeigler had been tossed out by the county commissioners after nearly $3 million turned up missing from his office. The court ruled the law under which he was removed was unconstitutional. Zeigler's attorney was Matthew Nakin.
"There may be difficulties initially but in Gary Zeigler's mind, he was duly elected to do a job and he intends to complete it."
Zeigler, who was never charged with any crime, resigned shortly after he was reinstated. In September, the court reaffirmed a decision from 1878 in ruling that the public can access Lake Erie up to the natural shoreline but not the high water mark, which was praised by both landowners and environmentalists. And a few weeks ago, the justices ordered the state to pay property owners around Grand Lake St. Marys who've weathered lots of flooding after a 1997 spillway project recommended by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. And in July, the justices agreed that non-biological parents who want custody after a breakup should have an explicit written agreement spelling out custody arrangements.
Perhaps one of the biggest stories of the year involving the court didn't happen in the courtroom, but a block away at the Statehouse on December 14 - as Justice Paul Pfeifer, who co-authored the state's death penalty law when he was a Republican state senator, testified for a Democratic bill that would repeal it.
"The death penalty in Ohio has become what I call a death lottery - hit or miss, depending on where you happen to commit the crime, and the attitude of the prosecutor in that county."
The court launched a death penalty task force, but that panel won't consider a ban on capital punishment. In the last twelve months, Ohio's top court also became the first state supreme court in the nation to hear a challenge to a state smoking ban. A decision is expected early in 2012.