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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ronald L. Royse v. City of Dayton, et al., Case no. 2011-1477
Second District Court of Appeals (Montgomery County)

State of Ohio v. Jillian D. Hobbs, Case nos. 2011-1504 and 2011-1593
Ninth District Court of Appeals (Summit County)

Was City Civil Service Board Required to Follow Ohio Rules of Evidence In Conducting Administrative Hearing?

Fired Firefighter Argues Board's Rules Barred Admission of 'Hearsay' Testimony

Ronald L. Royse v. City of Dayton, et al., Case no. 2011-1477
Second District Court of Appeals (Montgomery County)

ISSUE: In conducting an administrative hearing at which it approved the termination of a city employee, did the Dayton Civil Service Board commit reversible error by admitting “hearsay” testimony by two city officials about the employee’s drug test results and the testing procedures used by third-party contractors who conducted those tests on behalf of the city?

BACKGROUND: Dayton firefighter Ronald Royse was fired by the city based on the results of a drug test that indicated he had used cocaine after failing a previous drug test and being notified that a subsequent failed drug test would be grounds for termination. Royse challenged the reliability of the drug test results at an administrative hearing before the Dayton Civil Service Board.  

At that hearing, City Employer Representative Maurice Evans and City Safety Administrator Ken Thomas testified regarding the results of Royse’s failed drug test as certified by Advanced Technology Network, the union-approved third party laboratory retained to analyze employee drug tests, and as confirmed by an independent Medical Review Officer pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the firefighters union. Thomas also presented testimony explaining the detailed security procedures followed by the city’s collection agent, Concentra Medical Center, to ensure that a tested employee’s specimen is collected without the possibility of undetected dilution or contamination, identified by the employee as his or her own unaltered specimen, sealed in the presence of the employee, transported in a tamper-proof container and delivered intact to the lab for analysis.

The board found that the evidence presented at the hearing was competent and probative of the city’s claim that Royse had failed a second drug test in violation of the city’s substance abuse policy, and ordered his termination from employment on that basis.  Royse appealed to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, which affirmed the civil service board’s decision and order of termination.

Royse appealed the common pleas court’s ruling to the Second District Court of Appeals. Among other assignments of error, Royse asserted that the civil service board had violated the Ohio Rules of Evidence by admitting and relying on “hearsay” testimony by city employees Evans and Thomas to establish the reliability of the testing procedures and security precautions used in collecting and testing Royse’s urine specimen, because neither witness had personally participated in the collection or testing of Royse’s urine specimen, and neither had first-hand knowledge that the procedures they described in their testimony had been followed in Royse’s case. 

In a 2-1 decision, the Second District observed that, in general, administrative agency hearings are not required to follow the Ohio Rules of Evidence applicable to trials conducted in state courts, but noted that the Dayton Civil Service Board had adopted as part of its procedural rules Rule 14.5 (A), which stated that “the admission of evidence (in board proceedings) shall be governed by the rules applied by the Courts of Ohio in civil cases.”  Because the courts of Ohio are required to strictly follow the Ohio Rules of Evidence, and those rules bar the admission of second-hand “hearsay” evidence in most instances, the court of appeals majority ruled that the civil service board had erred in relying on the testimony of Evans and Thomas to terminate Royse’s employment, and the common pleas court had erred in affirming the board’s decision. On that basis, the Second District vacated the order terminating Royse’s employment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Dayton sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the Second District’s ruling.

Attorneys for the city point to numerous prior court decisions holding that the Rules of Evidence prescribed by the Ohio Supreme Court for the conduct of court trials do not directly apply to administrative hearings conducted by state and local government agencies, and holding that testimony that might be barred in a court proceeding by the hearsay rule is admissible in administrative hearings to establish competent and probative evidence supporting an agency action or ruling.

They point out that there is no reference anywhere in the civil service board’s rules to the Ohio Rules of Evidence, and argue that the language of the board’s Rule 14.5(A) does not “adopt” the Rules of Evidence as a strict standard applicable to all board proceedings, but merely indicates the board’s general intention to conduct its proceedings and have the parties present evidence in the same manner as in civil court cases.  They also contend that, if the court should find that the civil service board was required to follow the Ohio Rules of Evidence in Royse’s hearing, it should still uphold the admissibility of the drug test results and testimony presented by Evans and Thomas under an exception to the hearsay rule that allows a non-expert to attest to the authenticity of “business records” maintained by an agency for a non-testamentary purpose.

Attorneys for Royse urge the Supreme Court to affirm the Second District’s holding that while there is no general requirement that administrative agency hearings must be conducted in strict compliance with the Ohio Rules of Evidence, different agencies have discretion to adopt reasonable evidentiary standards that are consistent with the level of formality and technical complexity of the matters being considered at their hearings.

By adopting Rule 14.5(A), they assert, the Dayton Civil Service Board required its hearings to “be governed by the rules applied by the courts of Ohio” with regard to the admission of evidence, and the evidence rules applicable to state courts are the Ohio Rules of Evidence, including the rule that generally precludes hearsay testimony such as that presented by Evans and Thomas in this case.

Jonathan W. Croft, 937.333.4111, for the Dayton Civil Service Board.

Terry W. Posey Jr., 937.443.6857, for Ronald Royse.

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Can Police Officer Appointed as Parttime Clerk of Court Serve as 'Neutral Magistrate' Who Issues Arrest Warrant?

Where Warrant Affirms Fellow Officer's Probable Cause to Make Warrantless Arrest

State of Ohio v. Jillian D. Hobbs, Case nos. 2011-1504 and 2011-1593
Ninth District Court of Appeals (Summit County)


BACKGROUND: Under R.C. 2935.05 and Ohio Criminal Rule 4, when a law enforcement officer makes an arrest without first obtaining a warrant approved by a court, the officer is required to “bring the arrested person without unnecessary delay before a court having jurisdiction of the offense, and shall file ... a complaint describing the offense for which the person was arrested.”  Once a complaint has been filed, the court is charged with determining whether “there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant committed it.”  If the court finds that there was probable cause for the warrantless arrest, the court issues a warrant or summons for the arrest of the accused person and “all further detention and further proceedings shall be pursuant” to that warrant.

In this case, Summit County sheriff’s detectives investigating a reported burglary of a home were told by witnesses that Jillian Hobbs, a neighbor of the victim, had been seen entering the victim’s house on the day of the burglary. Without obtaining a warrant, three detectives went to Hobbs’ home and interviewed her about the  burglary. Hobbs admitted that she had entered the victim’s home and taken several items to help pay for illegal drugs. The detectives placed Hobbs under arrest, and transported her to the Sheriffs’ office and then to the Summit County Jail.
One of the three officers, Detective Scott Plymire, then completed a complaint form which stated Hobbs’ name and address, the date of the offense and the identity of the crime as “burglary in violation of R.C. 2911.12.”  In the area of the form provided for the essential facts underlying the arrest, Plymire indicated that Hobbs had committed burglary by trespassing in an inhabited dwelling “with the intention to commit a criminal act,” but did not provide any description of the police investigation, the information obtained from witnesses, the officers’ interview with Ross, or her confession.

Following what Plymire later testified  was standard practice, the complaint form was then taken to another member of the Sheriff’s Department, Detective Sergeant Glenn Stott, who had also been appointed as a deputy clerk of the Barberton Municipal Court. Stott signed the form on a line designated for the attestation of a judge or court officer that there had been probable cause for Plymire’s warrantless arrest of Hobbs.  Without any further review by a judge or magistrate, the complaint and warrant were forwarded to the Summit County prosecutor, who obtained a grand jury indictment against Hobbs on a felony count of burglary. 

Hobbs’ attorney filed a motion asking the trial court to dismiss the indictment and/or exclude evidence obtained by police in connection with their warrantless arrest of Hobbs, arguing that the warrant approved by Sgt. Stott was invalid because he was not a “neutral judge, clerk or magistrate” and therefore could not properly affirm that there had been probable cause for Plymire’s arrest of Hobbs.  The trial court ruled that the warrant signed by Stott was invalid, but denied Hobbs’ motion to dismiss the indictment or suppress evidence based on its finding that the only evidence needed to convict her was her admission of the crime, which had taken place before the defective warrant was issued − and therefore was not information or evidence obtained as a result of the improper warrant.

Following the denial of her motion, Hobbs entered a plea of no contest to the burglary charge and was found guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.  She appealed the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss or suppress. The Ninth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment that the warrant was invalid, and also held that dismissal of the indictment or suppression of the state’s evidence was not required because Hobbs had confessed to the crime before rather than after the defective warrant was issued.  On Hobbs’ motion, the Ninth District certified that its holding that dismissal or suppression was not required was in conflict with decisions of the Sixth and Eighth districts in similar cases. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case to resolve the conflict among districts.

Attorneys for Hobbs argue that the lower courts erred by considering the signature of the defective warrant by Sgt. Stott as the starting point for their analysis of whether the conduct of the police violated Hobbs’ due process rights. They assert that the record shows the Summit County Sheriffs’ Office systematically violated arrestees’ due process right to immediate judicial review of a warrantless arrest by routinely having arresting officers file “bare bones” complaints such as the complaint filed against Ross and then having a fellow police officer rather than a disinterested judge, clerk or magistrate attest that there was probable cause for the arrest.

The point out that the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter police from using unconstitutional methods to obtain evidence, and argue that the only way to deter the improper police practice at issue in this case is to dismiss indictments and exclude trial evidence that are the byproducts of an invalid arrest warrant.

Attorneys for the state assert that Sgt. Stott’s signature as a deputy clerk of courts on the complaint form submitted by Detective Plymire was to verify that Plymire had sworn to the accuracy of the complaint, and was not intended to serve as an arrest warrant issued pursuant to Criminal Rule 4(A) with Stott acting as a “neutral magistrate.”  If the court finds that the document signed by Stott did function as an arrest warrant, they urge the justices to reverse the lower courts’ holdings that such a warrant would be invalid, and instead follow two decisions in which the Eighth District has held that a law enforcement officer also appointed as a deputy clerk of courts may function as a neutral magistrate to find probable cause for a warrantless arrest so long as that officer was not personally involved in the investigation of the crime at issue or in the arrest itself.

Mark H. Ludwig, 330.472.1824, for Jillian Hobbs.

Heaven DiMartino, 330.643.7459, for the state and Summit County prosecutor's office.

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These informal previews are prepared by the Supreme Court's Office of Public Information to provide the news media and other interested persons with a brief overview of the legal issues and arguments advanced by the parties in upcoming cases scheduled for oral argument. The previews are not part of the case record, and are not considered by the Court during its deliberations.

Parties interested in receiving additional information are encouraged to review the case file available in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office (614.387.9530), or to contact counsel of record.