Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Warren
STATE OF OHIO EX REL. THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, A DIVISION OF GANNETT GP MEDIA, INC., Petitioner,
HONORABLE DONALD E. ODA II, Respondent.
ACTION IN PROHIBITION
C. Greiner and Darren W. Ford, for petitioner
Vincent Faris, Clermont County Prosecuting Attorney, and G.
Ernie Ramos, Jr., Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for
1} This case involves a review of a petition for a
writ of prohibition submitted to this court on December 13,
2017. Petitioner, The Cincinnati Enquirer, a division of
Gannett, GP Media, Inc. ("Enquirer"), filed its
petition with this court on August 28, 2017. Respondent, the
Honorable Donald E. Oda II ("Judge Oda"), filed his
answer to the Enquirer's petition on September 21, 2017.
The Enquirer then filed its brief in support of its petition
on October 10, 2017. On November 1, 2017, Judge Oda filed his
response brief in opposition to the Enquirer's petition.
The Enquirer subsequently filed its reply brief in support of
its petition on November 13, 2017. Oral arguments were then
held before this court on December 13, 2017.
2} The matter now properly before this court, the
Enquirer seeks a writ of prohibition to prevent Judge Oda
from enforcing the order on courtroom decorum and pretrial
publicity he issued on August 18, 2017 in the case of
State v. Richardson, Warren C.P. Case No. 17CR33292.
For the reasons outlined below, the Enquirer's petition
for a writ of prohibition is hereby granted.
3} The Enquirer is a newspaper of general
circulation in Cincinnati, Ohio. Judge Oda is a judge for the
Warren County Court of Common Pleas who is presiding over the
Richardson case. In that case, the 18-year-old
female defendant is charged with aggravated murder,
involuntary manslaughter, endangering children, tampering
with evidence, and abuse of a corpse after it was alleged she
killed her baby and buried the corpse in the backyard of her
Warren County home.
and Procedural History
4} On August 9, 2017, Judge Oda issued an interim
order on courtroom decorum and pretrial publicity restricting
the parties in the Richardson case from making or
participating in any extrajudicial statement that they would
expect to be disseminated by means of public communication,
whether written, broadcast, and/or electronic media, as well
as social media. In issuing this interim order, Judge Oda sua
sponte determined that there was a "substantial
probability" that a fair trial would be compromised and
potential jurors would be prejudiced if the parties involved
in the case were not prohibited from further commenting on
the case. Continuing, Judge Oda then stated as part of the
The Court notes that the coverage of this case by the press
has been remarkably fair. Both sides have expressed their
positions, and neither side appears to have 'the upper
hand' when it comes to news coverage. The public
commentary and the right that every American now seems to
have to weigh in on social media regardless of their
knowledge of the facts are largely irrelevant. People can
think what they want, say what they want, tweet or post what
they want - the Court is confident a Warren County jury has
the discernment to disregard this information and focus on
the facts. However, witnesses talking about the facts of the
case in advance of trial, press releases, attorneys talking
about evidence, lack of evidence or trial strategy
substantially impairs the Court's ability to conduct a
fair and impartial trial.
5} On August 14, 2017, the Enquirer filed objections
to Judge Oda's interim order alleging there was no
evidence in the record to indicate such an order was
necessary so as to ensure the defendant received a fair
trial. Three days later, on August 17, 2017, Judge Oda
presided over a hearing on the Enquirer's objections.
During this hearing, Judge Oda - without prompting from any
of the parties present at the hearing - admitted a single
exhibit, Exhibit A, a list of links to online news articles
reporting on the charges against the defendant, as well as
copies of the corresponding news articles. These news
articles were printed from websites belonging to both local
and national media outlets including, but not limited to,
WLWT, WCPO, and Fox 19 from Cincinnati, WDTN and WHIO from
Dayton, Fox 8 from Cleveland, and CBS News. Aside from
Exhibit A, no other evidence was presented at this hearing
from the state, from the defendant, or from the Enquirer.
6} On August 18, 2017, Judge Oda issued a decision
upholding the prohibitions laid out in his previous interim
order, which, as noted above, restricted the parties from
making or participating in any extrajudicial statement that
they would expect to be disseminated by means of public
communication, whether written, broadcast, and/or electronic
media, as well as social media. Judge Oda also restricted the
parties from (1) publicly discussing or disseminating
evidence gathered in the case, (2) making public statements
about the case, and/or (3) posting or commenting upon any
aspect of the case on social media.
7} In issuing this decision, Judge Oda found there
had been substantial news coverage of the case and a
significant amount of pretrial publicity. This media coverage
included, among other things: (1) statements of the attorneys
concerning their opinions and/or observations concerning the
allegations, as well as facts that may or may not be
presented at trial, evidence, possible motives, and trial
strategy; (2) statements of investigators and prospective
witnesses regarding facts in connection with the case that
may or may not be true and/or admissible; and, (3) statements
from the parties concerning the case. In so holding, Judge
Oda determined ...