In the 1978 case Lockett v. Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States struck Ohio’s death penalty process as unconstitutional. Individuals who had previously been sentenced to death were resentenced after Lockett, often receiving sentences of life with the possibility of parole. FACTS: In the 1978 case Lockett v. Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States struck Ohio’s death penalty process as unconstitutional. Individuals who had previously been sentenced to death were resentenced after Lockett, often receiving sentences of life with the possibility of parole. For at least the past decade, the Ohio Parole Board has had an unwritten policy or practice of denying parole to these individuals regardless of individual circumstances.
Our clients were impacted by this policy. Patricia Wernert and George Clayton were each sentenced to death pre-Lockett, were resentenced, and have since been denied parole repeatedly. Both have records of good conduct, strong rehabilitative efforts, and good reentry plans.
The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that although parole is discretionary and no one is entitled to it, having set up a parole system, the state has created a “minimal due process expectation,” by which it is obligated to provide “meaningful consideration” for parole. The Board’s policy of denying fair consideration to people who were resentenced after Lockett violates that requirement.
On July 28, 2021 we filed this case in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Plaintiffs Patricia Wernert and George Clayton, seeking a declaratory judgment finding that the Parole Board’s blanket policy of denying people resentenced post-Lockett is unlawful. On August 25, 2021, we agreed to a 28-day extension of Defendants’ deadline to file a responsive pleading. On September 28, Defendants filed both a Motion to Consolidate this case with Brust v. Ohio Parole Board, which we did not oppose, and a Motion for More Definite Statement, asking the Court to require us to amend our Complaint by attaching the full Board Decision and Minutes for each Plaintiff. We opposed the Motion for a More Definite Statement on October 5, and Defendants replied on October 12. On November 23, Defendants’ motion was granted, and this case was consolidated with Brust.
On March 3, we filed a Motion to Intervene and Amend Complaint, adding Bobby A. Johnson and Vincent Price as Plaintiffs. Defendants opposed the Motion on March 17, and we filed a Reply on April 1, 2022. The Court held a virtual status conference on June 14.
On August 24, 2022, the Court granted the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss in Brust v. Ohio Parole Board. Although the reasoning of that opinion apparently pertained specifically to Brust, the Court also dismissed Wernert.
On September 22, we filed a Notice of Appeal to the Tenth District, where we will argue that the trial court was wrong to dismiss this case sua sponte without notice or any explanation. Although we had filed this appeal on a different calendar from Brust, the two cases were consolidated by the Clerk. On September 30, we filed a motion requesting the cases be de-consolidated. That motion was granted on October 3.
We filed our appellant brief on November 22, 2022, arguing that it was improper for the court to dismiss the case sua sponte, without notice or an opportunity to respond. Defendant-appellees filed their opposition brief on December 12, and we filed a reply on December 19. Oral argument was held on April 12, 2023. On June 15, 2023, the Tenth District issued its decision, finding that the trial court’s dismissal of the case—which was done by way of an order pertaining to Brust—had not been an effective dismissal order, despite the trial court’s informal characterization of it as such. As a result, the Tenth District found that there was no final appealable order, and it had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The effect of this ruling is the same as if we had prevailed: the case will be returned to the trial court.