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Ohio judge:
Antigay lawmaker is "real culprit"

Ohio judge:
Antigay lawmaker is "real culprit"

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Progressive activists--and a superior court judge--in Cincinnati are frustrated that a conservative state lawmaker appears to have escaped justice for his role in altering antigay petitions last year.

On Monday, two low-level petitioners were sentenced to probation and community service for fabricating signatures in a drive to repeal the city's new antidiscrimination law. Lois Mingo and Precilla Ward, both paid canvassers, pleaded guilty last month to various counts of election falsification. (Among the Cincinnati "voters" that the women managed to sign up for a repeal was "Fidel Castro.")

"To cheat on petitions in an election is to really rob people of freedom," Judge Robert Ruehlman told the defendants. "It's the foundation of democracy. You have to pay for that."

But Ruehlman went on, "I still think the real culprit is Representative Brinkman."

That would be Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., an eight-year state house member representing parts of Cincinnati. Brinkman, a hard-line right-winger, was paid $40,000 to manage the signature drive that aimed to put a gay rights repeal on the 2006 ballot. Although Brinkman and his troops managed to qualify the bare minimum of 7,656 names, the drive failed after an inspection turned up irregularities in the petitions.

In addition to the fake names, the addresses of hundreds of entries were manually altered after the fact. In many instances, ineligible addresses were replaced with addresses inside the city that qualified for the petition. It appeared that Brinkman's team would scratch out the suburban address of "Mary Smith," find another "Mary Smith" who lived within Cincinnati borders, and substitute the new address.

According to a July court transcript published on Progress Ohio, Judge Ruehlman questioned assistant Hamilton County prosecutor David Stevenson on the practice. Stevenson said Brinkman admitted to changing more than 1,000 addresses, but later news reports said Stevenson "backed away" from that confirmation.

The transcript describes the case of Robert Costelli, who signed the petition but lived in Mariemont. His entry was changed to Robert Castellini, who lives in Cincinnati and who also happens to be the owner of the Cincinnati Reds.

"I got a lot of this from talks in chambers," Judge Ruehlman told Stevenson. "We talked about this case, which kind of bothered me. It turned out Brinkman actually admitted to that? How many others did he do like that that he admitted to?"

"I don't know the exact number," Stevenson replied. "Around 1,100, 1,000 addresses changed."

But Brinkman avoided charges, claiming that his attorney told him he could make sure that the addresses on the petitions conformed to those on the city voter roles. Harrison County prosecuting attorney Joseph T. Deters disagreed with that interpretation of election law, but called the circumstances a "gray area." Brinkman went before a grand jury in the matter but was not indicted.

Attorney Jennifer Branch, who first discovered the alterations and forgeries, said there was a clear distinction between adding someone's missing ZIP code, which is permitted, and replacing one address with another.

"They did not just fill in correct addresses," she said in a statement at the time. "They changed the identities of voters--that's fraudulent." Prosecutor Deters, she went on, "is giving someone a free pass." (Ann Rostow,

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Ohio judge:
Antigay lawmaker is "real culprit"

" >
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