Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

State of Ohio v. Curtis L. Clinton, Case no. 2014-0273
Erie County Common Pleas Court

Patricia J. Schultheiss v. Heinrich Enterprises Inc. et al., Case no. 2016-0623
Fourth District Court of Appeals (Washington County)

Disciplinary Counsel v. Thomas Patrick Maney, Jr., Case no. 2016-1494
Franklin County

Death Penalty

State of Ohio v. Curtis L. Clinton, Case no. 2014-0273
Erie County Common Pleas Court

Curtis L. Clinton is appealing his convictions and death sentence for the September 2012 triple homicide of Heather Jackson and her two children in their Sandusky home. Clinton also challenges other aspects of his trial, which involved charges for the rape of a 17-year-old a week before the Jackson murders.

Mother and Children Found Dead in Home
In August 2012, Jackson and her children – 3-year-old Celina and 1-year-old Wayne Jr. – moved to a new house. On Sept. 7, Jackson invited friends over for a party. According to people who were there, she and others took prescription drugs recreationally during the course of the evening.

The next afternoon, Danielle Sorrell, a close friend of Jackson’s, stopped by the house, but no one answered the door. After speaking with Jackson’s mom, who said she hadn’t been able to reach her daughter that day, Sorrell went back to the house and looked through a window. She became concerned because she saw Wayne Jr.’s blankets and bottle, which she said Jackson wouldn’t have left behind if she had taken the kids somewhere. A Sandusky police officer stopped by the residence after police were contacted, but found the doors locked and returned to the station to contact the landlord for a key.

In the early evening, Tom Hanson, who had known Jackson for a few weeks, and a friend went to check on Jackson. Hanson’s friend forced open her back door. The men entered the house and saw Jackson’s body between a mattress and box springs. They left and called 911.

Police discovered the bodies of the children behind boxes in a living room utility closet. It was later determined that all three family members had been strangled to death. Celina had also been raped.

Clinton Calls, Visits Jackson in Early Morning
Jackson received three calls to her cell phone around 3 a.m. on Sept. 8, the morning of the murders. The middle call was from one of the men who had been at her party the night before. The first and third calls were from a cell phone assigned to Clinton, who also was a friend of Jackson’s. Clinton later told police that he and Jackson had a sexual relationship over the five or so months they had known each other.

Police also reviewed surveillance video obtained from a nearby hospital that showed the vehicles that came and went from Jackson’s home on Sept. 7 and 8. One of the vehicles, a white Cadillac, was determined to be Clinton’s car. The Cadillac arrived around 3:12 a.m. on Sept. 8, and the man who got out of the car entered Jackson’s house. He left at 4:16 a.m. The car returned at 4:20 a.m. and drove away less than a minute later.

Teen Tells Police Clinton Raped, Choked Her
The detective who recognized Clinton’s vehicle in the video was investigating a reported sexual assault that occurred a week earlier. A 17-year-old girl, identified by the initials E.S., knew Clinton through his girlfriend. E.S. told police, and later testified, that she and Clinton were at his apartment one night in early September when he repeatedly raped her and choked her until she passed out.

The detective located Clinton on the Monday after Jackson’s murder at a hospital, where he was staying following a suicide attempt. He agreed to go to the police station for questioning.

Clinton Goes on Trial
An Erie County grand jury indicted Clinton on Sept. 19, 2012, and his trial began in November 2013. During trial, Clinton’s lawyers asked that the case involving the rape of E.S. be separated from the triple homicide case, but the trial court denied the request. Experts testified that testing showed Clinton couldn’t be excluded as the source of DNA on the materials used to strangle the three victims or the evidence found on Celina.

The jury found Clinton guilty of all charges, including the aggravated murder of Jackson, Celina, and Wayne Jr.; the rape of Celina; the rape of E.S.; and aggravated burglary.

During the mitigation phase of the trial, Clinton’s lawyers informed the court that Clinton wanted to make an unsworn statement, but he wanted no evidence presented as mitigating factors to the jury. However, his lawyers did submit exhibits as mitigating evidence under seal for the court.

The jury recommended a sentence of death, which the trial court imposed. Clinton appealed his convictions and death sentence to the Ohio Supreme Court, which must review direct appeals in death-penalty cases. Clinton has submitted 23 legal arguments challenging the legal proceedings, his convictions, and the death penalty.

Parties Disagree About Trial’s Mitigation Phase
Clinton argues that he didn’t knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to present mitigating circumstances at his trial. He maintains that the Ohio Supreme Court has held in prior rulings that a trial court must have a discussion on the record with a defendant to determine whether such a waiver is knowing and voluntary. He notes that he wasn’t present in court when his lawyers told the court he was waiving this right, and the trial court at no point conducted the required questioning to protect his constitutional rights. Nor did his unsworn statement contain any mitigating information for the court to consider, he contends.

In addition, an accused has a constitutional right to be present at critical stages of a trial, and only the accused, not the accused’s lawyers, can waive this right, Clinton asserts. He states that he was absent not only for the mitigation waiver but also during a hearing about admitting evidence and a discussion about jury questionnaires and verdict forms. His presence was required at these critical points and may have changed the trial’s outcome, he contends.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office counters that Clinton didn’t waive his presentation of mitigating factors because he gave an unsworn statement. Even Clinton’s trial counsel said this in court at the time, the attorney general points out. The Ohio Supreme Court concluded in an earlier death-penalty decision that defendants who chose to make an unsworn statement are exercising their right to present mitigating circumstances, the attorney general notes. Because of Clinton’s decision to make a statement during the mitigation phase, the attorney general argues that the trial court had no obligation to question Clinton on the record about his decision to present no other mitigating evidence.

According to the attorney general, Clinton consciously chose not to attend certain trial proceedings that weren’t critical stages of his trial. Noting that a defendant has a constitutional right to confront witnesses, the attorney general points out that none of the proceedings when Clinton was absent involved any opportunity to cross-examine a witness.

Consideration of Clinton’s 1999 Conviction Disputed
Clinton was convicted in 1999 for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Misty Keckler in Fostoria. Clinton contests the admission of evidence about this crime during the Jackson/E.S. trial. The similarities between the homicides are superficial, Clinton argues, and didn’t meet the burden of proof to prove the killer’s identity in the Jackson murders, to show a mode of operation, or to establish a sexual motivation. He disputes, for example, that Keckler died from strangulation or that the crime was sexually motivated. Instead, Clinton contends that this prior conviction was meant to show that he had a propensity to commit crimes and had bad character, which is the type of evidence barred by criminal rules from admission in a trial. Allowing details of the 1999 conviction at this trial was prejudicial and violated his rights to due process and a fair trial, Clinton asserts.

The attorney general responds that it had to establish Clinton as the perpetrator because he claimed he didn’t commit the murders or the rapes. By introducing “strikingly similar” details from the 1999 conviction, the prosecutor was able to identify Clinton as the person who committed the 2012 crimes. The attorney general notes, for instance, that Jackson and Keckler were found in similar positions and had ligature marks on their necks, and Clinton admitted having sex with both women. Clinton was also found to have choked E.S. and had sex with her. The prior conviction established that Clinton strangles his victims during or close in time to sexual activity with them, according to the attorney general’s brief. Presenting the prior conviction to the jury didn’t deny Clinton a fair trial, the attorney general argues, adding that evidence of his guilt – such as footage from the surveillance camera and DNA test results – was overwhelming in the Jackson murders.

One Trial for Both E.S. Rape and Jackson Murders Questioned
Clinton contends that he shouldn’t have been tried for the rape of E.S. and the triple homicide in the same trial. The crimes were unrelated, occurred on different dates, and in separate residences, and Jackson and E.S. didn’t know each other, Clinton explains. One crime didn’t form the immediate background to the other, and the facts of the two incidents didn’t prove a common scheme, plan, or system that Clinton committed both crimes, his brief states. He argues that he is entitled to separate trials for these offenses.

In the attorney general’s view, E.S.’s rape “is inextricably related” to the Jackson murders because the rape investigation by police led to identifying Clinton as a suspect in the homicides. That makes E.S.’s rape part of the immediate background to the murders, the attorney general argues. In addition, the attorney general maintains that the crimes were similar because they involved strangulation and sexual assault, showing a common scheme, plan, or system through Clinton’s pattern of behavior and sexual motivation. Clinton suffered no prejudice from the charges being considered together at one trial, the attorney general concludes.

- Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Curtis L. Clinton from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office: Kimberly Rigby, 614.466.5394

Representing the State of Ohio from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Thomas Madden, 614.995.3234

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Does Accepting Free Natural Gas for Home Prevent Terminating Oil and Gas Lease?

Patricia J. Schultheiss v. Heinrich Enterprises Inc. et al., Case no. 2016-0623
Fourth District Court of Appeals (Washington County)


  • Should the doctrine of “estoppel” prevent a landowner from terminating an oil and gas lease if the owner accepts benefits from the driller, such as free gas to the home?
  • Does a prolonged, but temporary, production stoppage of an oil and gas well during the secondary term of an oil and gas lease automatically terminate a lease?
  • Should Ohio’s general statute of limitations prevent any claim from being filed based on an incident that happened more than 21 years before the filing of the lawsuit?

Patricia Schultheiss owns 48 acres of land in Warren Township, Washington County. Prior owners, Albert and Jennie File, entered into an oil and gas mineral rights lease in 1950 covering 112 acres in Warren and Marietta townships that were not contiguous. The File lease had a 10-year “primary term,” which required the energy company to drill within 10 years, and a “secondary term,” which allowed the lease to continue “as much longer as oil and gas is found in paying quantities thereon.”

The original lease called for a royalty payment of one-eighth of all oil and gas sales to the landowner. In 1951, the energy company drilled a single well on the File property, and it is the only well that is on the portion of the 112 acres that Schultheiss acquired. In 1963, a prior owner to Schultheiss agreed to exchange the one-eighth royalty for free natural gas to one dwelling.

In 1977 Heinrich Enterprises acquired the 112-acre lease, and the well on Schultheiss’s property. It was the only well on the 112 acres until 1983 when Heinrich assigned a 30-acre portion of the mineral rights to Bobby Anderson for oil and gas exploration. The 30 acres was under the surface owned by Ralph and Patricia Lindamood and was on a parcel that was not contiguous with Schultheiss’s property. The terms of the assignment indicated the lease governing all 112 acres would remain in full force. The Lindamoods maintained the original 1950 lease had expired and didn’t apply to their property, but took no legal action, and subsequently agreed to allow drilling in exchange for free gas. The Lindamood well continually produced gas in paying quantities. The well on Schultheiss’s property was put out of service by Heinrich from 1977 to 1981 but afterward it continued to produce gas, albeit with several lapses over the years. In 2008, Heinrich assigned the lease for the entire 112 acres to Heinrich Production LLC, Utica Assets LLC, and Deep Rock Investments LLC.

Owner Seeks to Terminate Lease
In 2014, Schultheiss filed a lawsuit in Washington County Common Pleas Court to terminate the lease, arguing the 1983 assignment of the 30 acres separated her property from the rest of the property where Heinrich had a right to drill. She maintained that any oil and gas produced in paying quantities on Lindamood’s land couldn’t be used to subject her property to the secondary term of the lease, and since the well on her land stopped producing in paying quantities, the lease expired.

In 2015, the trial court ruled the lease was not separated by the assignment and that the gas produced on Lindamood’s land applies to Schultheiss’s land, giving Heinrich the continued right to drill for oil and gas on all 112 acres. The court also ruled that Schultheiss’s acceptance of free gas was equivalent to a receiving royalties from wells producing in paying quantities and that she can’t terminate the contract while accepting benefits from the deal.

Schultheiss appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which ruled that the lease terminated automatically by the lack of the production between 1977 and 1981. The appeals court rejected the energy companies’ other arguments that the lease should remain because Schultheiss’s case is based on an event that happened more than 30 years ago. Because of the long delay and her continued acceptance of free gas, the companies argued that they had the equitable defense of “estoppel by reliance on benefits,” which prevents Schultheiss from ejecting them. In addition, they argued that Ohio’s general statute of limitations barred the lawsuit and the suit was not permitted under the legal concept of “laches.”

The companies appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to consider only whether estoppel by acceptance of benefits prevents the termination of the lease. The companies in their brief implore the Court to also consider their statute of limitations and laches arguments.

Companies Argue Landowner Can’t Terminate Lease
The companies explain Schultheiss has a typical oil and gas lease, which has a primary and secondary term. The primary term establishes a certain set duration, and a secondary term, in which if the conditions were met in the first term, can carry on for an indefinite time in the second term. In this case, the oil companies had 10 years to drill a well in order to comply with the first term, and they did so when they drilled the well on Schultheiss’s property in 1951. To continue the secondary term, the wells had to continuously produce gas in “paying quantities,” which the companies note could be even a small amount of profit that when factored in with all the operating expenses could mean the quantities are so small that the company actually loses money.

They argue that the courts have let wells go without production for up to two years before considering the well unproductive, and the only time the well on Schultheiss’s property was out of service for more than two years was from 1977 to 1981. Since Schultheiss and her predecessor accepted free gas from the company during all the years the well did produce gas, she can’t rely on a time 30 years ago to now claim the lease was terminated, the companies argue. The defense of estoppel generally prevents a party in a contract from terminating the agreement if the other party relied on the promise that the agreement would stay intact.

Uniqueness of Oil and Gas Leases Impacts Case, Companies Argue
Citing the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2015 Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C. v. Buell decision, the companies note the Court found oil and gas leases “straddle the line between property and contract,” meaning both property law and contract law principles apply to the leases. The companies argue that contract law permits equitable defenses, such as estoppel, and since the leases are partially rooted in contract law, then the estoppel defense should prevail.

“Thus, any claim to terminate the File Lease is subject to the usual contractual defenses,” the companies’ brief states. “One of these contractual defenses is estoppel by acceptance of benefits, which prevents (Schultheiss) from retaining the benefits of the File Lease while simultaneously rejecting its burdens. Since plaintiff has accepted benefits under the File Lease, she should be estopped from asserting that it expired more than 30 years ago.”

The companies concede their actions don’t meet all the standards required to use the defense of estoppel, and called estoppel by acceptance of benefits a “quasi estoppel” situation.  Technically, estoppel requires one party to knowingly mislead the other party, and the other party relying and acting on the misleading information, the companies explain. They acknowledge that Schultheiss never misled them, but her acceptance of the free gas for all those years should qualify enough to prevent the lease from expiring, they maintain.

Accepting Benefits Doesn’t Block Lease Termination, Schultheiss Asserts
Since 1979, Ohio courts have upheld the right of landowners to accept royalties even after a lease is terminated, Schultheiss argues, and courts in many other states take the same position. Schultheiss explains that once a contract passes the primary term and enters the secondary term, the existence of the lease is dependent on the well producing oil and gas in paying quantities. If the well fails to produce, the contract automatically expires without the landowner having to take any action, she asserts.

Schultheiss notes that Heinrich actually shut down the well from 1979 through 1980, making it impossible to produce gas and that the lease didn’t have a “shut in” clause, which would allow a well to be temporarily shut in exchange for a payment to the landowners. She also maintains the well failed to produce any oil or gas in 1992 and 1993, and for a two-and-a-half year period from 1997 to 1999, and for three years from 2005 to 2008.

Schultheiss also notes that the energy companies are correct in that the lease is partly controlled by property and contract law, but that the companies are wrong to invoke contract law in this matter. She argues the issue isn’t with the terms of the lease, which would make contract law applicable, but with the actual production of the well, which is governed by property law. The lease has a “determinable” term that reads if the well driller fails to produce oil and gas in paying quantities, the lease terminates, and the oil and gas produced after the termination belongs to the landowner. She explains that acceptance of benefits like free gas is logical because in reality the landowner is entitled to all the profits from the oil and gas once production restarts after a well ceases to produce.

Friend-of-the-Court Briefs
An amicus curiae brief supporting the energy companies’ position  has been jointly submitted by:

  • The Ohio Oil and Gas Association
  • The Southeastern Ohio Oil and Gas Association
  • Ascent Resources – Utica LLC
  • Buckeye Oil Producing Co.
  • Eclipse Resources Corporation
  • Enervest Operating LLC
  • Flat Rock Development LLC
  • Hess Ohio Developments LLC
  • HG Energy LLC
  • Northwood Energy Corporation
  • Petrox Inc
  • Sound Energy Company Inc.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the Guernsey County Farm Bureau, and the Washington County Farm Bureau jointly filed an amicus brief supporting Schultheiss.

Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Heinrich Enterprises, Inc. et al.: James Huggins, 740.373.5455

Representing Patricia Schultheiss: Ethan Vessels, 740.374.5346

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Attorney Discipline

Disciplinary Counsel v. Thomas Patrick Maney, Jr., Case no. 2016-1494
Franklin County

The Board of Professional Conduct is recommending a one-year suspension with six months stayed for a Franklin County attorney who neglected a client’s legal matters then lied to investigators about his misconduct.

A three-member board panel heard evidence of professional misconduct by Thomas P. Maney Jr., who was charged by the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel for several violations of the rules governing Ohio lawyers. Maney is challenging the board’s proposed recommendation, arguing the panel failed to allow him to present a key piece of evidence that demonstrated he suffered from a substance abuse issue at the time of the incident and was adequately completing a treatment program.

Attorney Fails to Act in Credit Card Case
In 2013, Patrick Baker hired Maney to represent him in a lawsuit filed by Discover Bank, and Maney received discovery requests from Discover’s lawyer seeking information from Baker. Maney didn’t provide a copy of the request to Baker, and he never provided responses to Discover. A month later he attended a pretrial hearing on Baker’s behalf and eventually agreed to a mid-2014 trial date.

A month before the trial was to begin, Discover asked for summary judgment based on Maney’s failure to respond to the company’s discovery requests. Maney didn’t notify Baker of the motion and didn’t file a response with the court. In June 2014, the court awarded Discover a $3,061 judgment against Baker, which Baker didn’t learn about until more than a month later. Baker, who had additional debts, was able to stop the Discover judgment by filing a bankruptcy notice. He then filed a grievance against Maney.

Maney Denies Allegations
When questioned by investigators with the disciplinary counsel, Maney responded that he sent letters to Baker informing him of the status of his case, he provided Baker the discovery requests, and he asked Baker on numerous occasions to respond to Discover. He claimed Baker never responded to his communications.

In follow-up conversations with the investigators, Maney continued to claim that Baker failed to respond to him. After several months, the disciplinary counsel informed Maney that his version of events wasn’t believable. The disciplinary counsel based its view on Baker’s statements and the mailing address Maney placed on the letters he submitted to the investigators. The address wasn’t Baker’s mailing address at the time Maney represented him. Maney then stated to the disciplinary counsel “you got me” and admitted to fabricating the information.

Hearing Procedure Disputed
The disciplinary counsel charged Maney with failing to diligently represent a client, failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, knowingly making false statements in connection with a disciplinary matter, engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to his client’s case, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Maney admitted he “bungled” Baker’s case because he put the file on a shelf and forgot about it. Maney acknowledged he acted with a dishonest or selfish motive and submitted false statements. The disciplinary counsel stipulated that Maney had no prior disciplinary record, that he submitted 14 letters from individuals that provided evidence of his good character and competency as a lawyer, and that he cooperated with the disciplinary process once he confessed to his wrongdoing.

Maney told the panel that in 2012 he began “drinking way too much” and after he gave a deposition to the disciplinary hearing, he voluntarily contacted the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP) and entered a contract with the organization. He testified that his drinking caused or contributed to the lies he told the investigators.

While Maney had undergone treatment, the panel concluded he hadn’t met the requirements to prove he had a disorder that can be a mitigating factor used to determine an appropriate sanction. Maney’s attorney, William Mann, attempted to present an email from Maney’s OLAP treatment counselor regarding his progress, but the panel refused because Mann couldn’t prove the authenticity of the note. The panel also found its content didn’t provide evidence that Maney met the mitigation factor standard.

After the hearing, the panel gave the parties a deadline to file written closing arguments. Mann filed his argument one day after the deadline, and the panel chairman rejected it. Mann filed for reconsideration, which was also rejected. Maney filed objections to the board’s recommended sanction, and the Supreme Court is required to hear the case.

Process Deprived Him of Rights, Maney Asserts
Maney’s brief states he doesn’t dispute the factual findings regarding his handling of Baker’s case. However, he argues the board has recommended an inappropriate sanction because it didn’t provide him the right to provide all his mitigating factors. He maintains if the panel accepted all the evidence, it would indicate that a less severe sanction is warranted.

Citing the Supreme Court’s 1992 Cleveland Bar Assn v. Acker opinion, Maney’s brief states the Court has “held that due process requirements in attorney-discipline proceedings have been satisfied when the respondent is afforded a hearing, the right to issue subpoenas and depose witnesses, and an opportunity for preparation to explain the circumstances surrounding his actions.” He argues he wasn’t given the opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding his actions because he wasn’t allowed to submit his counselor’s email and make it part of the record. It would’ve included the information to reach the standard for making his substance abuse an additional mitigating factor, he states.

Maney also notes that Mann was a day late in submitting his closing arguments because of “extraordinary circumstances.” Maney suggests his attorney’s closing argument provides evidence that Maney met the requirements to have his substance abuse considered a mitigating factor, and that he is being unduly punished by the panel by not accepting the late filing. Maney explained his attorney was late because on the day of the submission deadline Mann was dealing with another client who was suicidal. Mann explained the situation in the reconsideration motion that was denied.

Maney notes the disciplinary counsel didn’t object to the late filing and that, under the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, the panel should have accepted it.

Procedure Was Fair, Disciplinary Counsel Maintains
The disciplinary counsel argues the hearing panel did give Maney the “opportunity for preparation to explain the circumstances” and that it was Maney’s error that led to submitting an unauthenticated email. The disciplinary counsel maintains Maney could have called the counselor to testify or to submit a report that met the board’s requirements.

The disciplinary counsel also argues the evidence indicates that Maney couldn’t have met the standard because he testified in his deposition that he didn’t have any drug- or alcohol-related problems, and that he contacted OLAP the day after the deposition. The four-month period of treatment between the first contact with OLAP and the hearing wouldn’t provide enough time to prove successful completion of an approved treatment program, which is a requirement for substance abuse to be considered a mitigating factor, the disciplinary counsel concludes.

In response to the late filing, the disciplinary counsel maintains that Mann made a “conscious decision to ignore the deadline.” The disciplinary counsel suggests that Mann could’ve requested a short continuance of the case, but never attempted to discuss his dilemma with the panel chairman before the deadline. The disciplinary counsel argues what Maney truly seeks is “another bite at the apple” after having failed to follow required procedures.

- Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Thomas P. Maney, Jr.: Charles Kettlewell, 614.436.2750

Representing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel: Scott Drexel, 614.461.0256

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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.