Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Considers if Afternoon Stroll Into Man’s Garage to Steal Leaf Blower Constitutes Burglary

Image of University of Cincinnati College of Law.

University of Cincinnati College of Law hosts Supreme Court’s 81st Off-Site Court session.

Image of University of Cincinnati College of Law.

University of Cincinnati College of Law hosts Supreme Court’s 81st Off-Site Court session.

On a fall afternoon in 2020, Timothy Huff was landscaping his front yard when he noticed a man drive by his house, turn around, and park at the end of the driveway. In a matter-of-fact fashion, Donald Bertram gave Huff a friendly smile, walked silently into Huff’s garage, picked up Huff’s new leaf blower, and walked back to his car.

In disbelief and fear, Huff told Bertram to stop and put the $500 leaf blower down. Bertram placed the blower in his car and drove away. Charged with burglary, Bertram admitted he trespassed onto Huff’s property and took the leaf blower, but claimed he was no burglar.

At his trial, Bertram argued that to be convicted of burglary under R.C. 2911.12(A)(2), the prosecutor must show the offender trespassed by “force, stealth, or deception” into a structure with the intent to commit a crime. Bertram argued he must be found not guilty because there was no use of force, he didn’t sneak by Huff, and he didn’t even speak with Huff let alone deceive him.

The trial judge and jury disagreed. Bertram was found guilty and sentenced to eight to 12 years in prison. Bertram appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which found his “sly behavior” was enough to convict him. During oral arguments next week, the Supreme Court of Ohio will consider whether Bertram’s actions amounted to burglary.

The Supreme Court is considering State v. Bertram and two other cases at a special off-site session in Cincinnati at the new University of Cincinnati School of Law building. The justices will be presiding before an audience of students from six Hamilton County high schools along with UC undergraduates and law school students.

The Wednesday, April 19 visit to Cincinnati is the Supreme Court’s 81st off-site session and the second visit to Hamilton County since the program was launched in 1988.

Watch Oral Arguments Online
Before taking up the cases in Cincinnati, the Court will consider four cases on Tuesday, April 18 at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live on the Ohio Channel, where they are archived.

Detailed case previews from the Court’s Office of Public Information are available by clicking on each case name.

Tuesday, April 18
Solar Farms
A developer submitted applications in 2018 to the Ohio Power Siting Board to construct two solar generation facilities in Preble County. Collectively, the projects will occupy more than 1,900 acres and produce 150 megawatts of power. A group of county residents opposes the project and argues to the Court that the board broke its own rules to approve construction of the two solar farms. The Court will consider in In re application of Alamo Solar I and In re application of Angelina Solar I if the board was authorized to approve the projects with several conditions that the developer will have to meet during their construction and operation.

Eyewitness Recantation
A man was sentenced to 21 years in prison for a 2012 shooting and robbery in Cleveland. In 2020, the man told a court he had new evidence that undermined the validity of his conviction. The victim had provided an affidavit presenting misgivings about his earlier testimony and whether the man convicted was the shooter. The court didn’t hold a hearing and denied the request to consider the new information. In State v. Johnson, the man argues he is entitled to a hearing so the evidence and issues can be addressed. The county prosecutor contends that the man failed to show why he couldn’t have discovered the witness’
uncertainties earlier.

Lawsuit Deadlines
A man filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County based on a 2017 auto accident. He alleged he was injured when a driver ran a red light and hit his car. The man unsuccessfully tried to deliver notice of the lawsuit to the driver. He refiled the complaint twice – once before the two year statute of limitations expired and once after. In McCullough v. Bennett, the driver accused of causing the accident maintains that the man could refile his lawsuit only once, and the statute of limitations had no impact on that one-time restriction on refiling. The case was filed too late, the driver argues. The man who refiled the suit counters that state law permitted him to refile the case within a year after the court dismissed his second complaint.

Judicial Misconduct
In Disciplinary Counsel v. Judge Gaul, a Cleveland judge is found to have committed 30 violations of ethics rules, including infringing on the constitutional rights of criminal defendants and improperly incarcerating people. A one-year suspension has been recommended to the Supreme Court. The judge agreed that he violated 10 conduct rules but asserts that the other allegations weren’t proven. He asks for his suspension to be stayed. The disciplinary counsel argues the judge coerced pleas and minimizes his misconduct, which supports an actual suspension.

Wednesday, April 19
Police Dog Bites
A Belmont County deputy sheriff hosted a cookout where he allowed his three dogs and his trained police dog to roam the backyard with the guests. The officer demonstrated the police dog’s skills by putting him through commands used to search for drugs and apprehend criminals. One of the guests was setting up a yard game when the police dog leaped up and bit her on the chest. She needed surgery for her injuries and she sued the deputy. In Harris v. Hilderbrand, the Court will consider if the deputy’s job requirement of keeping the dog with him at home provides him with immunity from liability arising from a dog bite, even when he is off duty.

Auto Insurance
In Acuity v. Progressive, a teenager with permission to drive someone else’s car lost control of the vehicle and hit a utility pole in Streetsboro. The car was insured by the owner and the teen was insured under his father’s policy. The two insurance companies dispute their responsibility for covering liability claims connected to the accident. The company insuring the vehicle argues its policy doesn’t cover the teen or any drivers who have their own auto insurance. The teen’s insurance company maintains that the other insurer can’t escape its responsibility by excluding drivers in this situation from coverage in its policies.