Exclusion Zone Excluded; Child Endangerment Defined

Demonstrating her ability to dig deeper than mimicking Dr. Seuss, U.S. District Court Judge Susan J. Dlott last month issued a significant ruling regarding the controversial creation of Cincinnati's

Demonstrating her ability to dig deeper than mimicking Dr. Seuss, U.S. District Court Judge Susan J. Dlott last month issued a significant ruling regarding the controversial creation of Cincinnati's "exclusion zones." City Council had enacted ordinances designating areas from which individuals could be excluded and arrested for trespass, if they had previously been arrested for certain crimes (prostitution and drug related offenses) — not tried and convicted, mind you, only arrested.

The judge recognized the unnerving curtailment of due process effected by such an ordinance. The criminal status it creates is bestowed by the police rather than by a judge or jury, and the right of appeal also leads not through the courts but to the city's safety director. It's a legal tool with the potential for incredible abuse, whereby police might target those they wish to incarcerate, arresting them on charges that won't stick, then arresting them again on the indisputable charge of criminal trespass as they enter the "zone" to visit a friend, buy something, go home, whatever.

All Americans have fundamental rights, including being entitled to the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise in a court of law. We have a right to freedom of movement to enable essential First Amendment rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech (and the right to receive speech).

The lead attorney challenging exclusion zone ordinances for the American Civil Liberties Union, Bernard Wong, has his office inside the Over-the-Rhine exclusion zone. The ordinance prevented those of his clients who had been arrested from visiting their attorney. Amazing.

Kudos to Judge Dlott for recognizing bad law and finding it unconstitutional.

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If you're wondering what has happened since I wrote about Cynthia Stewart, the Oberlin mother being criminally prosecuted for taking pictures of her daughter in the bath ("A Snapshot of What Freedom Is and Isn't," issue of Jan. 27-Feb. 2, there's good news and bad. Children Services had argued that the daughter was abused and dependent, and wanted to intervene.

This month, local Magistrate Silva Arredondo found that the child was not abused but that she was dependent. The ruling means that Children Services now should get involved in the life of this 8-year-old girl. A Feb. 17 hearing to decide how the case should be handled by the agency was postponed until April 7. Stewart's attorneys plan to appeal the Arredondo ruling.

The law defines a dependent child as one "whose condition or environment is such to warrant the state, in the interests of the child, in assuming the child's guardianship." The magistrate's decision was based on Children Services caseworker Tracy Myers being "concerned about (the girl's) pose (or) stance in some of the pictures" and adding she thought Stewart should stop photographing her daughter nude. A therapist informed the court the child "has feelings of worry and safety" — she probably meant worry and lack of safety — implying that being photographed by her mother was the cause.

Oberlin College political science professor Marc Blecher, a Stewart supporter, disagreed in a statement to a local paper. "Her feelings are not a result of these photos," he said. "She's been photographed avidly since she was a baby. It's pretty obvious [the feelings are] a result of the legal ordeal that she and her family have been exposed to."

Blecher said the therapist's reported "feelings of worry and safety" began when her mother was arrested. A family friend, Lynn Powell, who co-chairs a defense fund for Stewart, elaborated: "The child has nightmares. She's dreamt about boa constrictors strangling her family and earthquakes forming crevices that swallow her family." Powell insists, however, "she's not worried and anxious about her mother taking pictures of her."

County Prosecutor Greg White blames media attention for any continuing harm to the child and says he wants an end to "any more external forces being involved." But the child's third-grade teacher, Gail Wood, believes media attention is important to develop support for the family. As you can see, I agree. A local politician has suggested forming a group to monitor Children Services.

In addition to possibly having her child taken from her, Cynthia Stewart faces up to 16 years in prison and $30,000 in fines on criminal charges of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, so the inestimable damage to her child might be only just beginning. Wood says the girl is holding up pretty well but reveals one of her third-grade school friends told her "she isn't as funny as she used to be."

Nothing about this issue is funny. Idiotic, absurd even, but not funny.

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