The Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (O.P.B.A)
What is Felony Vandalism?
By: Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh
We recently had a case in which the defendant caused damage to a jail after being arrested on misdemeanor charges. While in custody, the defendant urinated throughout the cell and broke the smoke detector and fire alarm, causing the entire jail to be evacuated.
Certainly that sort of damage to government property would warrant a felony charge, right?
The answer depends on two factors: necessity to conducting business and monetary value. First, is the damaged property so crucial that the agency would be forced to shut down without it? And second, is the cost to repair the damage at least $1,000? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then the perpetrator can be charged with felony vandalism.
According to Ohio law, vandalism is serious physical harm to an occupied structure or its contents. The property must be owned by either a business or a government, and the damage must be reasonably expected based on the actions of the person doing the vandalizing. For example, one can reasonably expect damage from hitting a window with a sledgehammer. One would not expect damage, however, from slamming a door with a glass window in it.
Vandalism can only be charged as a felony if the damaged property is necessary for the operation of a business or government agency or the cost to repair the damage is at least $1,000. If the damage does not meet either of these requirements, the suspect would face misdemeanor charges of criminal damaging (a misdemeanor of the second degree) and/or criminal mischief (a misdemeanor of the third degree). Criminal mischief is a misdemeanor of the first degree if the damage creates personal harm.
Necessity can be a point of contention between the victim and the legal system. In the eyes of the law, not every object used in the course of business falls into the necessary category. Necessary means the business or agency could not operate without it. For example, a dentist cannot conduct his business without his drill. If one of his windows is broken, on the other hand, he can still see his patients.
Because one of the criteria for felony vandalism is the cost to replace, repair and/or clean the damaged property, it is important to be able to calculate the monetary value of the damage. This is also important for determining the level of the felony. Vandalism is a felony of the fifth degree when the cost of repairs is less than $7,500. It becomes a felony of the fourth degree when the cost of repairs is $7,500 to $150,000. And vandalism is a felony of the third degree if the cost of repairs is more than $150,000.
Damage to an individual’s property that is not used in business or to an unoccupied structure does not constitute vandalism. Both of these would fall under criminal damaging. Depending on the surrounding circumstances and how the property was damaged, there could also be felony charges. For example, setting fire to an abandoned house would result in arson charges. Destroying someone’s flat-screen TV and living room furniture, although likely to cause more than $1,000 in damage, would result in burglary charges. Breaking the engine in a motorboat sitting in someone’s driveway, though, would only result in criminal damaging charges.
Simply being government property is not enough to elevate a vandalism charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. However, some courts have ruled that law enforcement property is necessary for doing business. Therefore, there is an argument that damage to jail cells, breathalyzers, cruisers and other items used by law enforcement do not need to meet the $1,000 threshold in order to warrant a felony charge. Damage to government property not valued over $1,000 is handled on a case by case basis, so you should consult your county prosecutor’s office.
The defendant mentioned at the beginning of this article was charged with and eventually pleaded guilty to Vandalism (F5), since the total cost to clean up the jail and repair all the damage was more than $1,000. However, by breaking the smoke detector and fire alarm, which caused the entire jail to be evacuated, the defendant effectively shut down the “business” of the jail. Arguably, this would also elevate his crime to a felony, regardless of cost.
This article is not to be considered legal advice. Please consult your police legal advisor regarding any legal issue.
Sherri Bevan Walsh
Summit County Prosecuting Attorney
Changes in Pension
By now you have hopefully been familiarized with the changes that will occur to your pension in the coming years. If you haven’t you can familiarize yourself by logging onto www.op-f.org and reviewing the recently approved legislation and changes. While over the last few weeks and frankly last few years the board and myself have been getting a little grief over these changes. It is important to keep in mind the reasoning. First, while change is unpopular it is needed to sustain the overall health of the fund. Simply stating, we were paying out more than we were taking in, cost and life expectancies were continuing to rise and we could not simply sustain this trend. While I cannot speak on the proposed changes first being presented to the ORSC and legislature I can speak on the fact that something needed to be done.
When is a Dispute a Greivance? When is a Grievance Arbitrable?
As students, we all learned about the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Everyone remembers the subject matter of the first four rights: religion, speech, press, and assembly. The fifth right guaranteed by the Constitution is the oft times forgotten one, to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” As a public sector employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement, your ability to seek “redress of grievances” does not flow from the Federal Constitution, rather it is an animal of contract law which is governed by the laws of the State of Ohio. However, the concept is the same. The Founding Fathers implemented the notion of citizens being able to legally check the actions of the Government when it oversteps its prescribed bounds. Likewise, your collective bargaining agreement grants the ability to check the actions (or inactions) of your employer when it runs afoul of the agreed-upon labor contract.
An OPBA member has a dispute with his or her employer. That member wants to grieve the issue. That member wants to arbitrate the issue and generally be made whole. This is an understandable and frequent reaction to the day-to-day employment disputes that affect the OPBA membership. Often, the member has a legitimate argument for why he or she should be entitled to some sort of remedy. At the very least he wants to have the ability to “petition” for the redress of the alleged grievance. Sometime, that argument and ability is not so clear cut. Experienced OPBA Directors and representatives know that the first level of inquiry in any dispute with the employer is to determine whether something is actually a grievance. A grievance is typically defined by the collective bargaining agreement under which the parties operate. A grievance is essentially a breach of that labor contract. There is a saying that every act of unfairness in the workplace is not necessarily an unfair labor practice; at least not an unfair labor practice charge that the State Employment Relations Board would be willing to take action upon. Likewise, every dispute is not necessarily a grievance. Quite often, a member will go to his OPBA representative alleging that a supervisor has treated him unfairly, or that a supervisor makes snide remarks, or that a supervisor is otherwise offensive. The problem with many of these types of disputes is that collective bargaining agreements rarely contain any language which would be actionable to address such negative treatment. Quite simply, it is difficult, if not impossible to succeed in obtaining contract language which would address the personality defects and egotistical tendencies of these supervisors at issue.
Substantive Challenge to Arbitrability
While we sometimes see grievances alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act or violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, those allegations may not be grievable because they may not have anything to do with what is contained within the four corners of the particular collective bargaining agreement at issue. In order for a dispute to be substantively arbitrable, the parties (i.e., the employer and the union) must have agreed at some time in the past to arbitrate it through the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Binding contractual arbitration exists because the parties have either agreed to its existence or a conciliator has imposed it in some previous conciliation award. In AT&T Technologies v. Communications Workers, the Supreme Court held:
Who Decides What Is Substantively “Arbitrable?”
Generally speaking, it should be the arbitrator who decides what is within the jurisdiction of the arbitration provisions of a collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately, some employers take it upon themselves to “determine” that a matter is not arbitrable, thus forcing the union to file a law suit to compel the employer to arbitrate. As a practical matter, these procedures are particularly prevalent when dealing with employers who are difficult in the first place; i.e., those employers who are offended by the mere concept of having to do business with their employees in a collective manner.
The Court continued:
The courts, therefore, have no business weighing the merits of the grievance, considering whether there is equity in a particular claim, or determining whether there is particular language in the written instrument which will support the claim. The agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious. The processing of even frivolous claims may have therapeutic value of which those who are not a part of the plant environment may be quite unaware.
Procedural Challenge to Arbitrability
Aside from the subject matter challenge to arbitrability, an employer may also raise the idea that a matter is not procedurally able to be arbitrated. These challenges may include failure to timely raise or process a dispute. There may also be an allegation that a matter is not ripe to be arbitrated, meaning that no harm has occurred, even if there may be harm in the future. The essence of a procedural challenge is to determine whether the rules of the road have been followed. If they have, then the matter is arbitrable, if they have not, then the matter may not be subject to arbitration.
What Does All Of This Mean?
Overcoming both a subject matter challenge and a procedural challenge to arbitration gets one’s foot in the door to allow for a determination on the merits of the case. Most arbitration matters are not challenged in the manner described in this article, but some are. It is important for the OPBA’s membership to understand that getting from the point of dispute into the arbitrator’s hearing room may not be a given and it may not necessarily be a smooth ride. As with any dispute or grievance, first check with your OPBA Director and your OPBA staff representative to help assess the best way to handle the matter.
The SERB 2012 Report on Health Insurance Costs
The Research and Training Section of the State Employment Relations Board has released its annual report on the cost of health insurance in Ohio’s public sector. The 2012 report analyzes health care surveys completed by over 1,100 public employers in the state representing over 370,000 employees. Such amounts to an 84% employer participation rate that is very similar to past reports. The survey answers are representative of health care costs for employers and their employees as of January 1, 2012. The report is necessary reading for members of a negotiating committee as it offers useful comparative data and background information for numerous healthcare issues.
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