Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

State of Ohio v. James D. Worley, Case no. 2018-0757
Sixth District Court of Appeals (Fulton County)

Erin G. Gabbard, et al. v. Madison Local School District Board of Education, et al., Case no. 2020-0612
Twelfth District Court of Appeals (Butler County)

Disciplinary Counsel v. Anthony John Polizzi, Jr., Case no. 2020-0740

Man on Death Row for Fulton County Murder Argues Case Was Circumstantial

State of Ohio v. James D. Worley, Case No. 2018-0757
Fulton County Common Pleas Court

James Worley was convicted of the 2016 murder of Sierah Joughin in Fulton County, and he was sentenced to death. Joughin, 20, was riding her bicycle home from her boyfriend’s house in July 2016 when she disappeared. Three days later, her body was found buried in a cornfield.

Because Worley was sentenced to death, he is entitled to an automatic appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Woman Disappears on Bike Ride Home
On July 19, 2016, Joughin rode her bike about 6 miles from her grandmother’s house, where she was living, to the home of her boyfriend, Joshua Kolasinski. On Joughin’s return trip home, she and Kolasinski rode together for a few miles – Joughin on her bike, and Kolasinski on his motorcycle. Kolasinski recorded two videos of Joughin and him along the way. They parted ways, and Kolasinski returned to his house.

Later that evening, he texted Joughin. After texting her several times and receiving no response, he contacted Joughin’s grandmother and mother. Neither had seen her. They reported Joughin missing, and law enforcement and the public began looking for her.

A sheriff’s deputy discovered disturbed corn stalks on one side of County Road 6 in Fulton County, then found a pair of women’s sunglasses on the side of the road and a bicycle across the road among corn stalks. Crime-scene investigators were called, and they found a neon green sock, pattern and tire impressions in the dirt, men’s sunglasses, a screwdriver, a towel, and a box of automotive fuses, among other evidence. A local resident picked up a black motorcycle helmet on County Road 6 the night that Joughin disappeared. Blood stains were found on some of the items and in the cornfields.

Police Question Man Who Was Motorcycling in Area
While canvassing the area, police officers talked with Worley, who lived with his mother on the same county road. Worley, 57 at the time, said he was riding his motorcycle on the evening of July 19 when the motorcycle broke down on County Road 6. He said he tired of pushing his motorcycle and parked it in the cornfield about 8 p.m. that night. He later retrieved it and pushed it home, arriving there around 10 p.m. He told police he had lost his helmet along with fuses, a screwdriver, and glasses. Law enforcement subsequently searched his property, including a barn and the residence, and interviewed him at length. Among the evidence investigators discovered were female undergarments and clothing, women’s lingerie, a garbage bag full of adult diapers, a freezer buried in the floor of a barn, sexual bondage paraphernalia, zip ties, and handcuffs.

While searching on a nearby road, County Road 7, an acquaintance of Joughin’s stepfather came across a latex glove on the roadside. Officers were called and searched the area. Joughin’s body was found buried in a cornfield. The coroner determined she died of asphyxia caused by a yellow dog toy in her mouth that was tied into place and obstructed her airway.

Four Hundred Jurors Considered for Case
Worley was indicted on 19 counts in August. Four hundred prospective jurors were called for the initial pool. Many were dismissed or excused during hearings in November and December 2017 and February 2018. A group voir dire was conducted, winnowing the possible jurors to 107. The trial court held individual voir dire with the rest of the potential jurors, questioning them about pretrial publicity and capital punishment.

Two counts against Worley were dismissed, and the jury found him guilty of the remaining counts and specifications. The jury recommended the death penalty. The trial court agreed, imposing a sentence of death for aggravated murder along with multiple years in prison for other offenses.

In his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, Worley raises 11 legal arguments alleging errors in his trial and sentencing or making constitutional claims related to the death penalty. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

No Direct Evidence Proves He Killed Woman, Worley Contends
Worley maintains the prosecutor’s case against him was circumstantial, with no direct evidence proving he killed Joughin, let alone establishing the aggravating circumstance needed to impose the death penalty.

While one of Joughin’s front teeth was broken, no evidence showed that the placement of the dog toy in her mouth caused the broken tooth or that the toy was purposely inserted into her mouth, Worley’s brief argues. It states that the prosecutor didn’t establish that the choking caused by the toy was intentional.

The brief also contends the only evidence of Worley’s presence near the location of Joughin’s body was the DNA found on the glove picked up from the side of the road. DNA testing of scrapings from under her fingernails excluded Worley, and cellphone data indicated that Joughin’s phone was at the site of her abduction on County Road 6 a half-hour before Worley’s phone was there, his brief notes.

Breadth of Evidence against Worley Established His Guilt, State Maintains
The Fulton County Prosecutor’s Office argues it is well established that circumstantial evidence has the same value as direct and testimonial evidence and may be used to prove guilt. When Joughin’s boyfriend last saw her on July 19, all her teeth were intact, the prosecutor notes. The office states that no evidence showed she had been struck in the mouth to cause a broken tooth, and the coroner testified it was possible the dog toy could have broken her tooth. A reasonable inference was that her tooth broke when the dog toy was forcefully inserted into her mouth, cutting off her air flow, the prosecutor maintains.

The broken tooth wasn’t the only evidence that Worley purposefully killed Joughin, the prosecutor adds. The prosecutor states that Joughin was handcuffed and the toy was tied in place, Worley’s computer showed he watched pornographic videos in which women died by asphyxiation, Worley kept ball gags and other sexual bondage paraphernalia that he could have used if he didn’t want to cause death, and he needed to kill her to get away with his crimes.

The prosecutor’s brief maintains that Worley’s and Joughin’s DNA were found separately on multiple items at the abduction site on County Road 6, Joughin’s DNA was discovered on items in Worley’s barn, and Worley’s and Joughin’s DNA were on the latex glove near where she was buried. The trail of DNA connects Worley and Joughin to all the relevant locations, the office argues.

The brief adds that Worley’s own statements place him at the abduction site at the time Joughin’s cellphone was there, and Joughin carried a smartphone, which was continually connected to cellphone towers, allowing investigators to track her precise movements. However, Worley had a flip phone, which connected with a cellphone tower only if he made a call or texted, the brief notes. The prosecutor states that Worley’s phone established his vicinity in the area multiple times that night but wouldn’t indicate the exact time he arrived at the abduction site.

Juror References to Earlier Offense Leads to Fair Trial Arguments
Worley also notes that his attorneys twice asked for a new panel of jurors after comments made by potential jurors. Jurors were asked if they had formed opinions about Worley’s guilt, and one juror said “based on that he did this 30 years ago ….” Another juror went to the same church as Worley “after his first imprisonment.” While those jurors were excused, the rest of the jury pool was tainted by the comments, denying his right to a fair trial, Worley argues.

The prosecutor responds that the parties already had stipulated that the jury would be told he had prior felony convictions (one offense of violence, one drug related) because he was charged with having weapons under a disability. Also, a new jury panel wasn’t necessary because evidence of Worley’s past was properly admitted during trial and because the remaining jurors told the judge they would ignore the statements and consider only the evidence presented at trial, the prosecutor maintains.

Relevance of Earlier Abduction Debated
Worley also objected to testimony from a woman abducted by him in 1990. Worley knocked her off her bicycle with his truck and tried to force her into his truck and handcuff her. He maintains the incident was so dissimilar to this case that the jury shouldn’t have heard the testimony of this other act.

The prosecutor, however, describes many similarities between the 1990 abduction and Joughin’s abduction and murder, arguing the 1990 abduction showed a behavioral fingerprint and established Worley’s identity as the person who kidnapped and killed Joughin.

Kathleen Maloney

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

Representing James D. Worley: Gary Crim, 937.276.5770

Representing the State of Ohio from the Fulton County Prosecutor’s Office: Scott Haselman, 419.337.9240

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Must Armed Teachers and School Staff Complete Peace Officer Training?

Erin G. Gabbard et al. v. Madison Local School District Board of Education et al., Case No. 2020-0612
Twelfth District Court of Appeals (Butler County)

ISSUE: Does Ohio law require school administrators, teachers, and support staff to complete a basic peace officer training program or have 20 years of experience as a police officer in order to be authorized by a board of education to carry a firearm in a school safety zone?

In 1992, Ohio lawmakers made it illegal to possess or “convey” a deadly weapon in a school zone. The law, R.C. 2923.122, included a few exceptions, such as for law enforcement officers. Following school shootings nationwide, the General Assembly added an exception in the law for school boards to authorize people to possess a weapon on school grounds and to protect those with board authorization from criminal prosecution.

Ohio school districts started allowing certain administrators, teachers, and support staff to carry firearms on school property in an effort to protect students. The training required for those staff authorized to carry firearms on school grounds is disputed in this appeal.

Fifteen Ohio school boards that have authorized staff to carry weapons support the Madison Local School District Board of Education’s view that school boards decide the training requirements. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed a brief backing Madison Local, and the attorney general will share the school board’s time for oral argument.

On the other side, a group of parents argues another state law, R.C. 109.78(D), mandates specific training for those armed on school property. Among eight amicus curiae briefs supporting the parents are law enforcement officials, education groups, almost 300 former or current teachers and staff, and the cities of Cincinnati and Columbus.

The General Assembly considered legislation in 2020 that would exempt those authorized by school boards to be armed from the more-extensive training requirements in R.C. 109.78(D). The bill didn’t pass before the end of the legislative session.

In 2016, a high school student brought a gun into Butler County’s Madison Junior-Senior High School, opening fire in the cafeteria and injuring four students.

The Madison school board adopted a resolution in 2018 to permit some staff to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. The individuals must have a valid concealed handgun license. The board policy, which allows for up to 10 staff members to carry a concealed weapon on school property, additionally mandates at least 24 hours of active-shooter response training and a handgun qualification certificate. The volunteers also must pass a mental health exam, a criminal background check, and an annual drug screening.

Parents Sue over Training for Armed School Staff
Five Madison parents, including Erin Gabbard, challenged the board’s policy in Butler County Common Pleas Court. The court granted summary judgment to the school board, finding that the training listed for educational institutions in R.C. 109.78(D) – satisfactory completion of an approved basic peace officer training program or 20 years of active duty as a peace officer – applies only to those who serve in a police-like capacity in the schools.

Peace Officer Training for Certain Individuals Employed by Schools

R.C. 109.78(D) states:
“No public or private educational institution, or superintendent of the state highway patrol shall employ a person as a special police officer, security guard, or other position in which such person goes armed while on duty, who has not received a certificate of having satisfactorily completed an approved basic peace officer training program, unless the person has completed twenty years of active duty as a peace officer.”

Peace Officer Training for Certain Individuals Employed by Schools
R.C. 109.78(D) states:

“No public or private educational institution, or superintendent of the state highway patrol shall employ a person as a special police officer, security guard, or other position in which such person goes armed while on duty, who has not received a certificate of having satisfactorily completed an approved basic peace officer training program, unless the person has completed twenty years of active duty as a peace officer.”

The parents appealed to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s summary judgment. The appellate court determined that school staff authorized to carry weapons must abide by R.C. 109.78’s requirements.

The Madison school board appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. The Court stayed the outcome of the Twelfth District’s ruling pending the Court’s decision. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

Schools Have Discretion on Required Training, Local Board Contends
The Madison school board argues that state lawmakers authorized local boards of education in R.C. 2923.122 to decide whether to arm teachers and staff in their schools. However, the training and qualifications of those armed staff were left to the discretion of the school boards, Madison maintains.

The training requirements in R.C. 109.78 are only for peace officers, the school board contends. R.C. 109.78 states that no educational institution will employ an individual for a position “in which such person goes armed while on duty” unless the person has the specified peace officer training or experience. That training applies to school districts only when a district employs a special police officer, security guard, or school resource officer, the school board argues.

“These training requirements do not apply to librarians, algebra teachers, or custodians who are authorized to carry a weapon for the protection of students and school staff,” Madison’s brief states.

R.C. 109.78’s provision that training is required for someone in a position “in which such person goes armed while on duty” applies to one whose job duties involve being armed, the school board maintains. But an elementary school teacher, a softball coach, or a janitor isn’t hired for the purpose of carrying a weapon to protect students and staff. Being “armed while on duty” isn’t an inherent part of their job descriptions, so they aren’t subject to the training in R.C. 109.78, the board states. Its brief adds that the law’s requirements, which encompass more than 700 hours of classroom instruction, are “too onerous” and “wholly unrealistic.”

State Law Sets Forth Training Requirements, Parents Argue
The parents maintain that the two state laws work together – one exempts school employees from prosecution if they’re authorized by their school board to be armed in a school zone, and the other statute spells out the training that armed school employees must have.

They reject the school board’s position that school staff authorized to carry firearms aren’t “armed while on duty.” “On duty” means engaged in one’s regular work. Nothing in R.C. 109.78 states that it applies only to employees who are hired specifically to carry a firearm, the parents argue. Instead, teachers and staff authorized by a school board to carry a weapon are employed by Madison Local in a position in which they go into a school “armed while on duty,” the parents maintain.

They note that teachers and staff volunteer for many activities that aren’t required by their job descriptions, such as chaperoning dances and overseeing clubs. Even if not hired or paid to perform these tasks, they do them as part of their positions at the school, the parents argue. They maintain that the same reasoning applies to teachers and staff providing armed security at the school.

The school boards and the attorney general contend that the phrase “other position” in the law is limited to “other similar positions,” but the legislature didn’t place that limitation into the law, the parents argue.

Although they agree the training in R.C. 109.78 is more onerous than Madison Local’s qualifications for armed staff, the parents state that extensive training is essential because it “bear[s] on whether a teacher can safely control a gun at school without fatal accidents and respond appropriately in stressful, chaotic, situations.” The parents note they aren’t opposed to guns, but rather are concerned about the safety risk for their children that is posed by insufficiently trained school staff carrying guns at school.

Attorney General, School Boards Maintain that Armed Staff Not Security Personnel
The attorney general argues that the training mandated in R.C. 109.78 applies to school-security personnel, and armed teachers and staff aren’t security staff. The amicus brief from the 15 school districts agrees, noting that the Court’s decision will affect nearly 2 million students in more than 4,300 public and private schools in the state.

Law Enforcement, Education Groups Say Safety Depends on Training
In its amicus brief, the Fraternal Order of Police advocates for adequate training for teachers and staff who are authorized to use firearms during an active-shooter crisis. School resource officers and security guards must obtain the training, as should armed teachers and staff, the group argues. Also supporting the parents’ position are the following groups and individuals:

  • Ohio Education Association and Ohio Federation of Teachers
  • Six experts in school safety and firearms training
  • Nearly three dozen professors who teach, study, and research in the education field
  • 284 former or current Ohio teachers and staff
  • Professor Peter Shane, Ohio State University College of Law, who teaches and writes on statutory interpretation and separation of powers
  • Cities of Cincinnati and Columbus.

Kathleen Maloney

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

Representing the Madison Local School District Board of Education et al.: Matthew Blickensderfer, 513.651.6162

Representing Erin G. Gabbard et al.: Rachel Bloomekatz, 614.259.7611

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Attorney Convicted of Sexually Abusing Teens Opposes Disbarment

Disciplinary Counsel v. Anthony J. Polizzi Jr., Case No. 2020-0740
(Lake County)

In March 2018, Anthony Polizzi Jr. pleaded guilty to eight counts of gross sexual imposition and sexual battery based on relationships he had with two teenage students when he was a high school teacher from 2006 to 2010. Between the time he was asked to leave Cornerstone Christian Academy and the date of his conviction, Polizzi earned a law degree, passed the bar, and practiced law until he was indicted for the sex crimes.

The Board of Professional Conduct proposes disbarring Polizzi not only because of the convictions, but also for not being truthful about the incidents once he became a lawyer and for not taking full responsibility for his actions. Polizzi, 42 years old at the time of his disciplinary hearing, is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to indefinitely suspend him with the hope of regaining the ability to practice law again once he completes his 28-year prison sentence. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court will hear arguments by videoconference, which will be livestreamed.

Teacher Abuses Two Students
Polizzi began teaching at Cornerstone in 2006. Two girls, identified as E.L. and N.M., were both students of Polizzi’s at Cornerstone. E.L.’s mother also taught at Cornerstone and was in the process of divorcing E.L’s father, who was an alcoholic. She asked Polizzi if he would help E.L. by talking her through the family’s issues.

Polizzi met privately in his classroom with E.L about 10 to 15 times. Between April 2008 and October 2009, he then began having illegal sexual contact with E.L., who was 17 or 18 at the time and still a student at Cornerstone. N.M. was in Polizzi’s history class in both 11th and 12 h grades, and he was also her mock trial coach. Polizzi began having sexual contact with N.M. between February and March 2010.

Driving separately, Polizzi would meet the girls at a nearby park near the school. In 2010, someone saw Polizzi and N.M. drive back to school in close proximity and reported this observation to the school superintendent. Polizzi admitted to the superintendent that he met with N.M. at the park, and the superintendent informed Polizzi that his contract with Cornerstone wouldn’t be renewed. Polizzi admitted that he did not inform the superintendent about his sexual contact with E.L. or N.M.

Former Teacher Attends Law School

After leaving Cornerstone, Polizzi attended the University of Akron School of Law and began working for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. He didn’t disclose the sexual contact with the girls in his bar application and didn’t disclose he had been terminated by Cornerstone. After passing the bar exam, he worked for the Kisling, Nestico & Redick law firm for three years until he was fired when indicted for the sex crimes.

Polizzi had further contact with E.L and N.M. as they became young adults. In 2012, Polizzi sent N.M. an email that he eventually conceded was obscene.

In July 2017, a Lake County grand jury indicted Polizzi on one count of gross sexual imposition and 24 counts of sexual battery based on his relationship with N.M. In December 2017, the grand jury added 33 counts of gross sexual imposition and 22 counts of sexual battery regarding his contact with E.L. Polizzi agreed to plead guilty to one count each of gross sexual imposition for E.L. and N.M. and three counts of sexual battery for each.

The trial judge sentenced him to a total of 33 years in prison and classified him as a Tier III sex offender. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to 28 years in prison. The Ohio Department of Education revoked his teaching license because of the conviction, and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against him with the Board of Professional Conduct.

After a December 2019 hearing, a board panel found he violated the rules governing the professional conduct of Ohio lawyers by committing illegal acts that reflected adversely on his honesty and trustworthiness and his fitness to practice law. The board adopted the hearing panel’s recommendation to disbar Polizzi.

Lawyer Seeks Lesser Sanction
In his objections to the board’s decision, Polizzi asks the Court to reject the recommendation and impose an indefinite suspension. He notes the board’s report indicates that, in general, the Court has imposed indefinite suspensions in the few cases where a lawyer was convicted of sexual crimes against children.

Polizzi stresses that his conduct occurred prior to becoming a lawyer and that he has never been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct as an attorney. He maintains the board dismissed his expressions of remorse and instead chose to focus on statements he made during his criminal sentencing hearing and his poor choices of words when he attempted to explain his misconduct.

Polizzi asserts the board’s rationale for elevating the sanction from an indefinite suspension to a disbarment is based on the board’s perception that his testimony and behavior do not demonstrate that he acknowledges his wrongdoing. Polizzi maintains he apologized for his conduct throughout his disciplinary hearing and is ashamed and truly sorry for his actions.

Polizzi asks the Court to give him an opportunity to grow and change and to have the ability to practice law after he is released from prison. He notes that his only chance to apply for an earlier reinstatement date requires the approval of the trial judge, which Polizzi is certain will not happen. He argues that his conduct over the next 30 years should determine whether he can meet the standards to practice law in Ohio, and that he be allowed to seek reinstatement at that time.

Disbarment Appropriate, Disciplinary Counsel Argues
The disciplinary counsel agrees there is little precedent in Ohio where a lawyer is sanctioned for sexual crimes against children, but notes that in other states the lawyers have been disbarred. The disciplinary counsel notes that Polizzi points to Ohio cases where lawyers were indefinitely suspended for having “sexual communications” with minors. Polizzi deserves a more severe sanction for having sexual contact, the office asserts.

The disciplinary counsel explains the rule violations relate totally to the convictions for the crimes, and that Polizzi isn’t being punished solely for his behaviors regarding his lack of remorse and failure to be candid about his acts. The disciplinary counsel argues that Polizzi has had multiple opportunities to admit wrongdoing, “but when faced with crossroads, he consciously chose the wrong path.” The office notes Polizzi failed to tell the school about his misconduct, didn’t disclose it in his bar exam application, and initially misled a court-appointed psychologist.

The disciplinary counsel asserts that Polizzi took advantage of vulnerable teenage girls, and his conduct with E.L. was “especially egregious” because her mother trusted Polizzi to counsel her daughter while her parents were going through a divorce. The office notes both victims made emotional, impactful statements at Polizzi’s criminal sentencing regarding the harm he inflicted on them.

Dan Trevas

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

Representing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel: Joseph Caligiuri, 614.387.9700

Representing Anthony J. Polizzi Jr.: Natalie McGee, 614.792.7800

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