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First Amendment win: retaliatory criminal charges against Huron activist Stacy Hinners dismissed

Monday, October 7, 2019

But Huron failed to make the dismissal permanent and could recharge her at any time. The City thus continues to retaliate against Mrs. Hinners's free speech criticizing Huron’s secret, backroom payments to the city manager.

Huron, OH – Today, the prosecutor handpicked by Huron law director Aimee Lane suddenly dismissed the First Amendment-retaliatory criminal charges against activist Stacy Hinners. The charges for supposedly "disturbing a lawful meeting" and "obstructing official business" arose from the May 14, 2019 Council meeting in which Mrs. Hinners described to the public the lawsuit she and her husband Jason had filed over city officials’ backroom, illegal payments to the City Manager, Andy White.

Huron civic activist Stacy Hinners enduring First Amendment retaliation at the May 14, 2019 City Council meeting

Lane’s prosecutor, Michael Joseph O’Shea, reluctantly dismissed the charges just 31 minutes before a scheduled pretrial evidentiary hearing in which Mrs. Hinners’s Chandra Law attorneys would have proved through witnesses, video, and audio recordings that the charges against her are unconstitutional. The witnesses subpoenaed and waiting to testify at the Huron Municipal Courthouse included current Councilman Joseph Dike, who was expected to testify that—based on the critical content of her speech—Mayor Brad Hartung and other officials treated Mrs. Hinners differently than numerous other Huron residents who engaged in similar conduct, but weren't exposing corrupt decisionmaking.

In his motion seeking dismissal, the prosecutor complained that (1) the Ohio attorney general is criminally investigating certain City of Huron officials including former Huron Mayor Brad Hartung, Law Director Aimee Lane, and Councilman Glen Ginesi, who would have been his witnesses at Mrs. Hinners’s October 14 scheduled trial, and (2) that Mrs. Hinners and her husband had filed criminal complaints against these officials. The Erie County Court of Common Pleas, at the request of County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter, had appointed the Ohio attorney general to investigate. The prosecutor's complaint was that the City officials he was hoping to use as witnesses against Mrs. Hinners might invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination.

Mrs. Hinners's counsel pointed out that the prosecutor's true quarrel is with the United States Constitution.

On May 14, 2019, Huron police officers set the prosecution in motion when they followed former Mayor Brad Hartung’s baseless order to “remove” Mrs. Hinners from that evening’s Council meeting. During the public-comment section of the meeting, Mrs. Hinners described misconduct by City officials and the lawsuit she and her husband had filed to address it. About one minute into Mrs. Hinners’s remarks, Hartung walked around the Council table to City Manager Andy White and Law Director Aimee Lane, demanding—as captured on an audio recording of the meeting—“This is ridiculous. I want her charged!” Video shows that White and Lane conferred and then set the police seizure of Mrs. Hinners in motion, engaging police chief Bob Lippert to procure police officers. Officers arrived as Mrs. Hinners was sitting silently observing the rest of the meeting, seized her from her chair, threw her to the wall, and dragged her out of the room.

Hartung didn't show up for Council meetings for weeks after he demanded the attack on Mrs. Hinners. And then he quit.

In the minutes before the court dismissed the charges, witnesses observed O’Shea conferring in a back room at the courthouse with Law Director Aimee Lane and City Prosecutor Michael Kaufman, stripping away any pretense of his supposed “independence.”

The Hinners family's concerns about the campaign of First Amendment retaliation is underscored by sworn testimony by parish priest Father Jeffrey McBeth that Councilman Ginesi told the priest that "Mr. Hinners was acting in a non-Christian way when he criticized council and said he was 'bewildered' to learn that Mr. Hinners was under consideration for the diaconate or any prominent leadership role within the Church." Father McBeth also testified that Ginesi asked Father McBeth to intervene.

Ginesi is seeking re-election to his position of public trust this fall.

Subodh Chandra, Mrs. Hinners’s lead counsel, said:

From start to finish, this prosecution was an unmitigated affront to the First Amendment. Trying to save face, the prosecution first shamelessly “offered” to dismiss all charges—but only if Mrs. Hinners admitted the police seizure and Mayor Hartung’s actions were proper, which they manifestly were not. The prosecutor was handpicked by a hopelessly conflicted law director who was personally involved in the unconstitutional free-speech suppression of Mrs. Hinners, and documents and witnesses show she stayed engaged with him behind the scenes pulling the strings, even while pretending to recuse herself.
Mrs. Hinners showed great courage and resolve by refusing to lie and by standing up for her rights. Unfortunately, Huron continues to retaliate against her by failing to dismiss the charges permanently, which would mean they can never be filed again. Instead, the City hangs over her head a continuing threat to her free speech, with the potential that it could refile charges. Huron official after official seems unable to do what is right.
Our investigation continues. This is not over. We will hold current and former Huron officials accountable for their misdeeds. Having police seize and charge someone for criticizing her government is fundamentally unAmerican.

Mrs. Hinners is represented by Subodh Chandra and Brian Bardwell of The Chandra Law Firm LLC.

Related Practice Areas
First AmendmentPolice Misconduct & BrutalityMalicious Prosecution, Abuse of Process, and False Arrest

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