COVID deniers are taking vandalism case to Ohio Supreme Court

Photos from court documents of stickers placed at the Plain City Public Library.

THROUGH: JAKE ZUCKERMAN – Ohio Capital Journal

The Plain City Public Library asked her to leave in January 2021 for repeatedly refusing to wear her mask, as was state policy at the time.

Court records indicate that Julie Dean’s “unruly behavior was an ongoing problem for the library.” Two months later, she came back with her husband and some hard-to-remove stickers.

“THERE IS NO PANDEMIC,” reads the first. “Your own government is waging a psychological war against you.”

“LIVE IN FEAR,” reads the other. “(It makes you easier to control.)”

Julie and Samuel Dean were subsequently charged and convicted of misdemeanor trespassing and criminal mischief. Her case sparked a bizarre series of lawsuits and appeals, distilling some of the anger and paranoia that continues to haunt the coronavirus pandemic.

Her case, which resulted in a $250 fine and two days in prison, is now pending in the Ohio Supreme Court. The stickers that were on a library drop box during the pandemic have only partially been removed since.

After the court appointed an attorney for the deans, the couple fired him and chose to represent themselves. They soon filed nearly identical motions that a judge found almost impossible to decipher, but raised an objection to “performing a medical procedure without informed consent and without medical necessity.”

At a pretrial hearing, Samuel Dean moved that the court drop the charges against him and made prepared observations alleging that his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act were being violated. However, court documents show that he repeatedly “refused” to say what type of housing he was looking for. When a judge said he couldn’t help if he didn’t know how, Samuel Dean reread the same prepared statement.

“It doesn’t do me any good,” said the judge.

He later found Samuel Dean in contempt for talking about him and fined him $250. The judge then called the case of Julie Dean. She then read out the same prepared remarks as her husband before telling the judge it had been “served.”

“Well, I didn’t,” the judge replied before taking the matter to court.

The deans then both filed affidavits in the Ohio Supreme Court to remove the judge from their case. These were denied.

The case then went to court. The deans acted as their own attorneys. After 20 minutes of deliberation, a jury found each of them guilty on two counts. They each received a $250 fine and 90 days in jail, but they only served two. You have not yet served these sentences.

Trespassing charges against Samuel Dean were dismissed on appeal earlier this month. Judge Stephen Powell of the Twelfth Circuit held that he had not committed trespassing because he had not previously been banned from the library. (A dissenting judge argued his criminal intent to deface the library should have waived his privilege of being on its property.)

On Monday, the deans appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. L. Bradfield Hughes, an attorney for Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur, said in court filings that the case raises “issues of public and broad public concern.”

They argued that they had been wrongly denied the use of an ADA coordinator in lower court proceedings. An attorney for the Madison County Attorney’s Office disputed this, noting that both state and federal courts reviewing the matter ruled that there had been no such violation. In the related federal lawsuit, Julie Dean alleged that she suffered from hearing and memory loss. Samuel Dean said he suffers from PTSD. These disabilities, they said, “severely limit their life activities” and were ignored by the court. The lawsuits were dismissed.

Lawyers for both sides did not respond to calls.

Chris Long, director of the library, said in an interview that it’s easy to focus on the loudest spots on the radar. But far more common are ordinary bookworms who stay positive during a difficult time.

“Public libraries, we see a lot every day, pandemic and no,” she said. “In every difficult situation, we encounter dozens of other people who want to help.”

Jake Zuckerman is a Statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling West Virginia legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering police officers and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.
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