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Country Club Fights to Keep Leasing Ancient Earthworks Site Used for Golf Course

Image of a gray aerial view map of the earthworks

The Ohio History Connection is seeking to end Moundbuilders Country Club’s lease to make a public park at the site of the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark. Photo credit: Morgan Patten

Image of a gray aerial view map of the earthworks

The Ohio History Connection is seeking to end Moundbuilders Country Club’s lease to make a public park at the site of the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark. Photo credit: Morgan Patten

A Newark country club has dug in its heels over giving up its century-long lease of the grounds and golf course that are the site of geometric earthworks roughly 2,000 years old.

The Ohio History Connection, which owns the property where the Octagon Earthworks sit, wants to buy out the remaining time on the lease held by the Moundbuilders Country Club. When the club declined to negotiate in 2018, the History Connection moved to the courts, using a process in state law granting it eminent domain powers.

Moundbuilders lost in the lower courts and has appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which will hear State ex rel. Ohio History Connection v. Moundbuilders Country Club Company next week. The Court also will consider arguments in seven other cases, including two challenging the constitutionality of Sierah’s Law, which created a statewide violent-offender registry.

Locals Purchase Ancient Earthworks Site in Late 1800s for Preservation The 50-acre Octagon Earthworks – which would hold four Roman Colosseums – are part of the even larger Newark Earthworks, a complex of interconnected and geometric earthen embankments constructed by the Hopewell Culture. In 1892, Licking County officials acquired the Octagon Earthworks to preserve the prehistoric site. The county and the city of Newark leased the land in 1910 to what is now the Moundbuilders Country Club. Ownership of the property was transferred in 1933 to the Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society, known today as the Ohio History Connection, which has leased its property to the club since.

Moundbuilders currently limits access to the site to four full days a year and Mondays, or partial Mondays, depending on the season. The History Connection wants to terminate the lease to make the Octagon Earthworks a public park, giving visitors broad access to and tours of the grounds, and to restore, preserve, and research the site. The Octagon and seven other earthworks in Ohio also are under consideration for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but to receive the distinction the Octagon site cannot be under the control of the country club.

Moundbuilders rejected an $800,000 offer to buy out the lease, and the History Connection filed a petition in the Licking County Common Pleas Court to start the process of taking back the property. The court approved the petition. The next step is for each side to present evidence of the lease’s value to a jury, which would determine the compensation owed to the country club.

Before the jury review began, Moundbuilders appealed to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s ruling. Moundbuilders then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Parties Debate Good Faith and Public Benefit The country club argues the History Connection didn’t make a good-faith offer to break the lease because it presented the lower of the two appraisals it obtained. Noting that a property can be taken only for the common good, Moundbuilders notes that the club employs 100 people and buys $1 million in local goods and services annually. The club contends that courts should weigh competing public interests when determining whether a taking under eminent domain is for the public good.

Represented by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the History Connection responds that, although it collected two appraisals, state law requires only that it obtain a property appraisal from an independent, qualified appraiser. Acknowledging there was confusion over the valuation of the lease in the second appraisal, the History Connection argues the law required only one appraisal for the offer to be made in good faith. The group maintains it took every step required by state law to begin the purchase of the lease to make a park at the Octagon Earthworks for the benefit of the public.

Violent-Offender Registry Mandates Annual Registration for 10 Years Two appeals, State v. Hubbard and State v. Jarvis, challenge the constitutionality of Sierah’s Law, which establishes a statewide violent-offender database of those convicted of aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, or abduction. The law requires violent offenders to register with their local sheriff annually for 10 years after their release from prison. The information is sent to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification for use by law enforcement officers.

The law applies to a person who is convicted of or pleads guilty to one of the violent offenses on or after March 20, 2019, or who is convicted of or pleads guilty to one of the offenses and is housed in jail or prison on or after March 20, 2019. Appellate courts in the state have issued conflicting decisions regarding whether Sierah’s Law is unconstitutional.

Offenders, Advocacy Groups Contend Law Is Punitive Miquan Hubbard pled guilty to offenses on March 7, 2019, for crimes that took place in August 2018. In an unrelated case, Albert Jarvis pled guilty on March 4, 2019, based on events in November 2018. Hubbard and Jarvis maintain that the law is being applied to them retroactively, which is unconstitutional. Comparing the law to Ohio’s Adam Walsh Act – a sex-offender registry that the Court found unconstitutional – they maintain that the law is punitive because it imposes new burdens and duties on offenders.

The Ohio Justice and Policy Center, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, and two other groups jointly filed an amicus brief, pointing to cases where recently released offenders who are survivors of trafficking or domestic violence and served years in prison now are subject to the requirements of the violent-offender registry. The groups object to a law applying retroactively without regard to circumstances or rehabilitation.

Prosecutors, AG Argue Obligations Aren’t Burdensome The state argues that individuals convicted of one of the violent offenses can’t expect that certain other duties wouldn’t be imposed after a conviction. The Butler County prosecutor maintains that the violent-offender registry system is less onerous than the sex-offender registry put in place under Megan’s Law and found constitutional. The Muskingum County prosecutor likens the violent-offender registry to a state registry for arson offenders. Neither increases the punishment for the crimes, the prosecutor argues.

The Ohio attorney general, which submitted an amicus brief, will share the time allotted to the prosecutors for oral argument. In the attorney general’s view, the mandates of the registry are future obligations and simply administrative.

Oral Argument Details The Supreme Court will hear Ohio History Connection and three other appeals on April 13. The Court will consider Hubbard, Jarvis, and two other cases on April 14. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m.

Because of the coronavirus health emergency, the Court will hold its session by videoconference. The arguments will be streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live, and archived, on The Ohio Channel.

In addition to these highlights, the Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, April 13 After a Montgomery County high school teacher was indicted for allegedly engaging in sexual conduct with a student, the office learned the teacher’s defense attorney planned to call several character and alibi witnesses who hadn’t been interviewed by law enforcement. The trial court ordered the defense attorney to create written summaries of the conversations if no reports from the witnesses existed. The attorney objected to this requirement, and filed an , asking to pause the common pleas court proceedings until the issue was resolved. In State v. Glenn, the Court will consider whether a challenge to an order to create witness summaries is a final appealable order, or if it can only be challenged after the trial court proceedings are concluded.

In AKC Inc. v. United Specialty Insurance Company, sewage from a municipal sewer line backed up into an Akron nightclub in December 2014. The owner contacted the insurance company, which told the owner to start the cleanup, costing about $63,000, then denied coverage. The insurer maintains that the nightclub’s policy excludes coverage for water backups and pollution. The cleaning company counters that a water backup doesn’t involve sewage and pollution refers to a broader category of environmental contamination.

A Cuyahoga County man and his wife were arrested in November 2018 on drug charges. The man first received a public defender to represent him, while his wife hired a private attorney to represent her. A few days later, the man hired the lawyer representing his wife so that the private attorney represented the couple. The two entered into a plea agreement that resulted in the husband receiving a nine-year prison sentence while his wife was placed on probation for five years. In State v. Williams, the husband argues his constitutional rights to a fair trial were violated because the trial court didn’t inform him that he might have been the victim of a conflict of interest because his attorney represented him and his wife.

Wednesday, April 14 Three Lake County residents were involved in breaking into the trailer of a man they knew and robbing him at gunpoint. The principal offender received a 12-year prison sentence for the crime. Another man with a long criminal record who participated in the crime faced two maximum 14-year sentences for his role. The trial court announced the man was receiving 22 years in prison, which led the man to burst into an expletive-filled rant against the judge. The judge then imposed the maximum sentence for the two charges. In State v. Bryant, the Court will consider whether the judge could add six years of prison time based on the outburst or if the court could only hold him in contempt-of-court, punishable by a 30-day jail sentence.

The owner of a “big box” store location leased by Lowe’s Home Centers contested the Warren County auditor’s $8.5 million valuation for the 2016 tax year. The owner argued that the property should be valued at $5.8 million. After lower courts affirmed a value of nearly $8.5 million, the property owner contested, arguing the local government officials refused to the follow the requirements of the revised version of R.C. 5713.03, which states that property should be valued “as if unencumbered” by a lease. In Rancho Cincinnati Rivers v. Warren County Board of Revision, the Court will consider whether the board of revision followed the law when adopting the higher valuation.

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