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May 23, 2008

Man jailed for nonexistent gay sex crime moves on

He has settled an array of lawsuits after serving four months for ‘importuning’

Youngstown--The gay man who was jailed for committing a nonexistent sex crime has settled with all the people involved and wants to get on with his life.

Keith Phillips served four months in jail in 2003 for “importuning,” a year after the Ohio Supreme Court struck down the law that forbade asking a person of the same sex for sex, if it might offend them.

A year later, the Eleventh District Court of Appeals cleared him of all wrongdoing.

Along the way, Phillips sued the Warren judge who presided over his two trials and the attorneys that represented him in the second trial, Ben Joltin and Marc Dann--who later became Ohio’s attorney general before resigning in disgrace last week.

The case against Dann became an issue in his 2006 Democratic primary election.

All court action ceased last summer and Phillips, now 26, is not commenting because of confidentiality agreements and his desire to put the episode behind him.

The first of the several convoluted suits to be settled was the one against Wayne Trimble, who was accused of assault and battery after chasing Phillips in his car. Trimble mistakenly thought Phillips had propositioned his young son. According to records, Phillips was at work at the time it allegedly happened and the neither the description of the person involved nor his car matched Phillips. The terms of that 2005 settlement are confidential.

A judge tossed out a suit against Warren Municipal Judge Thomas P. Gysegem for defamation by slander in spring 2006.

When asked about the case, Gysegem had told the Warren Tribune Chronicle, “He has a habit of pulling his pants down in front of young boys, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s still illegal in the state of Ohio.”

The statement was false on its face and Phillips was never charged with any such crime, but the judge ruled that what Gysegem said was no worse than what Phillips was accused of, so there was no basis for slander. The court ignored the fact that Phillips had been found innocent of all charges by the Court of Appeals.

Gysegem is still a Warren municipal judge.

A few months later, according to Phillips’ attorney Randi Barnabee of Bedford, the malpractice suit against Dann and Joltin was settled. It is also under a confidentiality agreement.

A separate slander suit against Dann for a campaign-trail remark in 2006 was also settled.

Dann told the Tribune Chronicle, “The fact is what we were facing at the time is the fellow was charged with a felony, trying to expose himself sexually to a child.”

Again, the statement was false and the Warren Municipal Court and Eleventh District Court of Appeals had already cleared Phillips.

Dann, then a state senator, went on to become attorney general before resigning May 14 in a scandal over sexual misbehavior in his office.

Phillips could not file a claim in the Ohio Court of Claims against the city of Warren for wrongfully prosecuting him in the first place, due to a missed filing deadline and some confusion as to when that suit could be filed.

Phillips has a separate confidential settlement with Barnabee regarding that matter.

Barnabee said the lesson to be learned from Phillips’ case is that LGBT people accused of any crimes alleging sexual misconduct need to “clam up and say nothing until you get counsel.”

Phillips’ problems started because he did not know that “importuning” was not a crime and, without a lawyer, he pleaded no contest to it.

“The prosecutor and the judge took advantage of him,” Barnabee said, “and that can happen to others who are not careful.”

 

 


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