Oral arguments will be heard today, March 25, before the Ohio Supreme Court on an appeal by imprisoned Dayton restaurant owner Eva Christian, who has served nearly seven years of a nine-year sentence for insurance fraud-related charges.
Christian’s legal case has had several twists and turns since June 2012, when Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara P. Gorman delivered that nine-year sentence to the former owner of Cafe Boulevard in Dayton’s Oregon District and Cena Brazilian Steakhouse in front of the Dayton Mall.
This is actually the third time the Ohio Supreme Court has been asked to decide some aspect of the complex set of appeals that began shortly after her conviction, and the justices of the state’s highest court agreed only by the narrowest of margins to hear Christian’s most recent legal challenge. Although the justices will hear oral arguments today, a decision is not expected for several weeks.
Christian herself has been imprisoned in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Mansfield since June 7, 2012.
Even this most recent appeal probably wouldn’t free her from prison immediately: both her attorney and prosecutors say the most Christian could see her sentence reduced is one year, moving her release date up to May 2020 from its current May 2021.
The criminal case involved a 2009 fire and vandalism incident that Christian reported at Cena, and a break-in at her private residence in Washington Twp., which prosecutors and law-enforcement officials said were staged in order to collect insurance money. A jury agreed, convicting Christian in 2012 of five counts related to insurance fraud, filing a false report and running a crime ring.
The nearly seven years of appeals have failed to overturn those convictions entirely, but they did reduce the severity of some of the counts. Whether Judge Gorman has the right to keep her nine-year sentence intact, or whether she is bound by sentencing guidelines to reduce Christian’s sentence from nine to eight years, is at the heart of the current appeal.
Prosecutors have urged Ohio Supreme Court justices to overturn the most recent decision by the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals that, if allowed to stand, would lead to a reduction in Christian’s prison sentence.
Christian’s attorney, Brock Schoenlein, argued in his legal brief that Christian has essentially already served the full sentence of some of the lesser counts against her, and the trial court and prosecutors are trying to force her to serve some of that prison time again.
“If the state of Ohio gets its way in this matter ... prosecutors and trial judges can exercise an unlimited number of ‘sentencing mulligans’ ... ,” Schoenlein wrote.
“Eva was literally being forced to serve one of her sentences twice. We had a bit of a problem with that,” Schoenlein told this news outlet earlier last year.
Montgomery County prosecutors say the trial court judge was well within her right to re-impose a nine-year sentence despite the reduction in the severity of some of the counts on which Christian was convicted. In appealing the decision by the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals that effectively would shave a year off of Christian’s sentence, Assistant Prosecutor Heather Jans wrote that appeals judges had “created bad law that could adversely affect numerous re-sentencing hearings.”
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed last year to take another look at the sentencing issue — but just barely. Online state records show that the vote to accept the case for review was 4 to 3.