Mike DeWine’s time as Ohio Attorney General has been plagued by bad legal decisions.  His recent plan to start raiding and shutting down Internet cafes that offer sweepstakes games could turn out to be the next one on the list.

Two weeks ago, DeWine briefed law enforcement officials from around the state on how to prosecute Internet cafes, prior to raiding six of the businesses in Cuyahoga County that afternoon.

At the briefing DeWine “announced a new Internet gaming unit in the attorney general’s office to help them investigate”, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “The special unit includes members of DeWine’s staff with expertise on gambling and charitable gaming” who will be available to provide “advice” or “help with court cases”  or assistance with “covert investigation.”

HomerHatWhile it may sound like DeWine is developing some kind of awesome CSI Las Vegas-like unit to help fight illegal gambling in our state, not all Ohio prosecutors seem to agree with DeWine on the clarity of existing laws and at least one law director has been forced to dismiss charges against a cafe because DeWine’s office couldn’t provide any help with the prosecution.

According to a recent story in the Chillicothe Gazette, Chillicothe Law Director Sherri Rutherford had to drop charges against an Internet cafe that was raided last year because she couldn’t get an expert witness from DeWine’s office to testify.

“It was like trying to track down a ghost,” Rutherford said of trying to get an expert from the Attorney General’s Office, adding that anyone she talked to had been reassigned.

This cafe may be back in operation soon, despite the current moratorium on new Internet cafes in Ohio, because an exception in the law allows cafes shut down by law enforcement to reopen if they meet certain requirements.

DeWine’s office claims to have experts in gambling on staff but he couldn’t produce a single individual to assist with the prosecution in Chillicothe.  And while DeWine has urged county prosecutors to begin shutting down the cafes immediately, the Chillicothe case may give them reason to question the promises coming out of the Attorney General’s office.

The prosecutor in Chillicothe has already expressed some doubts about moving forward with any new cases.   The legislature needs to “clean the law up” around Internet Cafes, said Ross County Prosecutor Matt Schmidt in the same Chillicothe Gazette story.  And until they do he thinks “it’s prudent to take a wait-and-see approach.”

A judge in Franklin county expressed a similar concerns, recently telling law enforcement to stand down while he reviews a lawsuit brought by cafes in Northern Ohio.  According to the Columbus Dispatch, Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott urged “law-enforcement agencies not to raid four Lake County Internet sweepstakes cafes” that brought a lawsuit against the AG’s office.

DeWine’s office appears to be in full-on campaign mode: searching for anything that will get him in front of a camera or a reporter.   But we wonder if maybe he jumped the gun a little on Internet cafes.

It wouldn’t be the first time.  Again, DeWine’s past mistakes are many:

  • His interpretation of state law related to the Highway Patrol put rank and file troopers at risk of litigation and required a new law to fix the problem.
  • His misunderstanding about reporting felonies likely means the three most complicit witnesses in the Steubenville rape will never be charged with a crime.
  • His multiple bad calls on voting rights laws caused DeWine to hire expensive out-of-state lawyers to argue in favor of restricting voting access only to lose multiple appeals on multiple cases.

DeWine clearly thought he could use the Internet cafe issue to bolster his campaign resume, but the rush for political points and positive press isn’t getting the response DeWine had hoped for.

Local prosecutors are taking a wait-and-see approach to his directive, a judge has warned law enforcement to stop raiding Internet cafes and at least one case has been dismissed because DeWine’s office failed to provide the expertise and assistance he promised to deliver.

DeWine made a big show out of raiding and shutting down Internet cafes in Cuyahoga County, and he got a lot of press for his new Internet gaming unit.   The true test will come when we find out if Mike DeWine can turn the hype and rhetoric into results in court.