Ken Lawson: Joe Deters’ Favorite ‘Riot Sympathizer’
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters doesn’t like people connected with Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement and riot sympathizers, except when he does.
In a much-played television commercial recently, Deters lets voters know that he opposes the Collaborative Agreement that resulted in dozens of reforms for Cincinnati Police and is against subsequent city deals with, as he termed them, “riot sympathizers.”
All of which, of course, doesn’t mention the fact that Deters has relied upon Kenneth Lawson — the local attorney who helped negotiate the Collaborative Agreement and also helped strike some of the other deals — for political help in the African-American community when Deters was running for election.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.
The current TV commercial is aimed at re-electing Deters’ fellow Republican, Phil Heimlich, to the Hamilton County Commission. The prosecutor appears on camera and disparages Democratic challenger David Pepper for his role in helping negotiate the Collaborative Agreement while Pepper was on Cincinnati City Council.
In the commercial, Deters somberly intones, “When riots rocked Cincinnati, Phil Heimlich supported the police when no one else would … David Pepper turned his back on them, twice voting for the agreement, handcuffing our police.”
As Pepper points out, he wasn’t yet elected to Cincinnati City Council when the April 2001 riots occurred, although Heimlich was. Further, the local police union, Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. and a bipartisan council majority supported the Collaborative Agreement because the alternative was a federal consent decree giving the courts direct supervision of the police department. The union also urged council to settle several lawsuits against police to free individual officers from personal liability.
Regardless of those pesky facts, though, viewers might get the impression that Deters is angry over the Collaborative Agreement and the other police lawsuit settlements, along with anyone who supported them. But when Deters sought re-election to the prosecutor’s office in 2004 after an absence of six years, he quickly called on Lawson for help, who was only too eager to assist.
In the election, Deters, who is white, was running against Democrat Fanon Rucker, who is black. Both were write-in candidates to replace disgraced Prosecutor Mike Allen, then involved in a sex scandal with an employee. Deters had Lawson record some commercials on his behalf that aired on radio stations with predominantly black audiences. Lawson is a Republican who, in the past, has tried to convince the party to back him for a judgeship.
It’s not the only time that Deters relied on Lawson for help. In September 2004, Deters even used Lawson as his attorney in a legal matter. Lawson and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas represented Deters in a hearing before the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Local activist Kabaka Oba filed a complaint alleging that Deters shouldn’t be eligible as a candidate because Deters didn’t live in Hamilton County when he added his name to the list of write-in candidates. Board members rejected Oba’s complaint, citing a lack of evidence.
Deters was Hamilton County’s prosecutor in 1992-98, when he was elected Ohio Treasurer. He left the state position when that office came under investigation for a campaign contribution scandal that has resulted in misdemeanor convictions for his ex-chief of staff and a former fundraiser.
Lawson’s judicial ambitions first reared their head in fall 1999, when he broached Republicans about being appointed to a municipal judgeship. But party leaders rebuffed Lawson because some judges were angry that Lawson’s then-employee, Derek Farmer, became the first convicted murderer to be admitted as an attorney in Ohio.
— Kevin Osborne