Importuning charge leads to lawsuit
The suit seeks at least $250,000 in damages.
By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- A Bedford, Ohio, man has filed a lawsuit against Municipal Court Judge Thomas P. Gysegem, Atty. Marc E. Dann and others involved in his conviction in 2003 for a charge called importuning that was ruled unconstitutional a year earlier.
Keith E. Phillips filed the action Wednesday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, naming Judge Gysegem, Dann, Youngstown attorney Benjamin Joltin and Wayne A. Trimble of Warren as defendants. Dann, of Liberty, is also a state senator.
According to a December ruling by the 11th District Court of Appeals, Phillips, formerly of Youngstown, was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of importuning in 2003. Importuning is an offense in which a person solicits someone of the same gender to engage in sexual activity with the offender, when the offender knows such solicitation is offensive to the other person, the ruling stated.
Phillips was sentenced to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine on the conviction. Later that year, he filed an appeal, stating that the trial court erred in finding him guilty and that the court erred in convicting him on a law that the Ohio Supreme Court previously had held to be unconstitutional, the ruling stated. The appeals court reversed that conviction in December 2005.
In 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the importuning law was invalid under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 2, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution, the ruling stated.
Phillips' complaint says Judge Gysegem defamed and slandered him by making a statement in a Warren newspaper about Phillips.
It says Joltin, serving as his attorney, failed to advise him of the unconstitutionality of the Warren importuning ordinance, failed to present evidence that would have exonerated him and was negligent in advising him to plead no contest to the charge.
The suit says Phillips' grandmother asked Dann about representing Phillips, but Dann told her he could not because of a conflict of interest. Dann then referred the case to Joltin, who was an employee of Dann's, the suit says.
Dann is named in the suit, it says, because referring the case to Joltin violated Ohio's Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers because if a lawyer is required to decline employment, no partner or associate of his or his firm may accept or continue such employment, the suit states.
Trimble was named in the suit because he struck Phillips in the head with his fist and detained him during an incident two days before Phillips was charged with the importuning, Phillips' suit states. Trimble is the stepfather of a 14-year-old boy who reported the importuning to police, it says.
A few days after the report, the boy identified Phillips as the man who had committed the act, and Trimble confronted Phillips, punched him and detained him, the suit says.
The suit seeks $100,000 in damages against Judge Gysegem and more than $150,000 from Joltin, Trimble and Dann, jointly and severally. The case is assigned to Judge Andrew Logan.