An Ohio GOP Senate candidate reportedly crashed an RNC donor retreat and was escorted out

Josh Mandel
Ohio GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel.

  • Josh Mandel, running for a vacant Ohio Senate seat, got escorted out of a donor retreat over the weekend.
  • The retreat was hosted by the Republican National Committee and offered candidates coveted opportunities to mingle with donors.
  • There were also opportunities to schmooze with GOP leaders like former President Donald Trump.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Security removed Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel from a donor retreat hosted by the Republican National Committee, Axios reported.

The retreat, which took place over the weekend in a Palm Beach, Florida, hotel, welcomed guests on an invitation-only basis. Mandel did not have an invitation and crashed the event, according to Axios.

While he was booted from the event, his main opponent, Jane Timken, got to stay and was invited “because she is a major donor,” an unnamed source told Axios.

The event, which began on Friday, provides a prime chance for Republican candidates to mingle with some of the party’s biggest donors.

Axios also points out that event attendees got access to major GOP figures, including former President Donald Trump. On Saturday night, the group headed to Mar-a-Lago, where Trump currently lives. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was also slated to speak to the group, Axios reported. DeSantis is believed to be considering a 2024 run at the presidency.

By getting booted from the retreat, Mandel loses not only a chance to capitalize on key donor power, but also time to schmooze with the former president and GOP mainstays. It also puts Timken in the spotlight in a contested race for a vacant Senate seat.

Both Mandel and Timken have been fighting for Trump’s endorsement, according to Axios. His endorsement could go a long way in their Senate race to replace Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

The RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

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Ohio Secretary of State blasts Tim Cook as ‘elite’ and says the Apple CEO’s idea of voting on iPhones is ‘preposterous’

Tim Cook, Apple CEO
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s hopes for a future where Americans can vote on their iPhones is “preposterous,” according to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

In an interview with Fox News, LaRose said the idea is, “a classic example of one of these, kind of, elites, thinking they have a simple solution to a complex problem.”

Cook suggested the concept in a recent interview with The New York Times, published just days after Cook joined a growing coalition of business leaders who criticized a restrictive new Georgia voting law.

“I would dream of that, because I think that’s where we live,” Cook said when asked if tech would be the answer to some modern voting issues, like accusations of fraud. “We do our banking on phones. We have our health data on phones. We have more information on a phone about us than is in our houses. And so why not?”

Read more: The 11 biggest hacks and breaches of the past decade that are still causing reverberating damage

LaRose’s major criticisms ranged from identifying the phone’s user to technological competence. “You have to have the technological competence to do it right,” he said in reference to America’s biggest smartphone maker and one of the world’s most profitable companies. “And that may exist sometime in the near future, but it is more complicated than people realize.”

In the Times interview, Cook argued that current voting systems in America are “pretty arcane,” and that allowing people to vote on their smartphone could expand the reach and accessibility of voting to more Americans.

“I think we’re probably all having the wrong conversation on voting rights. We should be talking about using technology,” he said.

Of the voting age population in the US, just shy of 67% voted in the 2020 presidential electionthe highest percentage of any election in over 100 years.

“How can we make it so simple that our voting participation gets to 100? Or it gets really close to 100. Maybe we get in the 90s or something,” Cook said.

While LaRose agreed with Cook on expanding voting availability, he wasn’t convinced that iPhones are the path forward.

“Trying something untested, like voting on iPhones,” he said, could result, “in a loss of confidence” among voters.

Though voting through smartphone could expand accessibility for some voters, cybersecurity experts speaking to CBS News last November listed a number of ways it could also disenfranchise other voters: Security issues, the cost of iPhones, internet access, and voter identification were all among the main issues cited.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Trump had an ‘Apprentice’-like meeting with Ohio GOP Senate candidates at West Palm Beach golf club: report

Trump
Former President Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.

  • Trump had an “Apprentice”-like meeting with four Ohio GOP Senate candidates.
  • The candidates all did their best to prove their loyalty to the former president.
  • A potential endorsement from Trump could give a candidate an enormous edge among GOP voters.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former President Donald Trump may be far from his old New York boardroom, but on Wednesday he gave four Ohio GOP Senate candidates the type of grilling famously depicted on his long-running reality television series “The Apprentice,” according to Politico.

Before a fundraiser at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump had the candidates – former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken, investment banker Mike Gibbons, and businessman Bernie Moreno – sit together for a backroom meeting.

The four Republicans are set to run for Ohio’s open Senate seat in 2022, which will be vacated by two-term GOP Sen. Rob Portman at the end of his term.

The candidates were all in Florida to attend the event for Max Miller, a Trump-backed candidate who is seeking to unseat GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in a primary and win the general election in Ohio’s heavily-Republican 16th Congressional District.

Gonzalez was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in February for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the January 6 Capitol riot.

As the candidates were speaking with guests during the pre-dinner reception, one of Trump’s aides informed the candidates that the former president wanted to speak with them privately.

When everyone was assembled together, the meeting devolved into a 15-minute free-for-all of attacks and statements given to prove fealty to the former president, according to the report.

Read more: A Trump-appointed prosecutor blindsided the Biden DOJ with a ’60 Minutes’ interview on the Capitol riot cases. Now a federal judge wants to talk about it.

Mandel, who previously ran for the Senate in 2012 and was defeated by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, reportedly said he was “crushing” Timken in the polls, while Timken boasted of her grassroots support while leading the state party.

Gibbons reminded Trump of his donations to the former president’s campaign, while Moreno stated that his daughter was a part of Trump’s 2020 campaign team.

With Trump planning to play an active role in the 2022 midterm elections, an endorsement could put the race away for a particular candidate, and they are all openly competing with each other for the former president’s support.

One person familiar with the meeting told Politico that the event was like “The Hunger Games,” the dystopian trilogy of books and feature films; the candidates also had to sit at a circular table facing each other.

When Trump asked the group how the race was going, Timken mentioned discussed her work to reelect the former president.

Trump responded by pointing out that Timken had initially backed Gonzalez after the congressman voted to impeach him, which led Timken to say that she “cleaned” her stance by later calling on the congressman to resign, according to the report.

However, another individual familiar with the meeting said that Trump was just “teasing” Timken over her previous comments about Gonzalez.

The biggest source of tension was reportedly between Timken and Mandel, who have already launched their campaigns, while Gibbons and Moreno haven’t formally started their respective campaigns yet.

Mandel made a strong push for his candidacy, saying that he “hired a bunch of killers” for his campaign team.

“I’m a killer, and we’re going to win the primary and then the general,” he reportedly said.

Trump also showed a high level of interest in GOP Gov. Mike DeWine, whom the former president criticized after the governor referred to President Joe Biden as “president-elect” after the 2020 election was called last year.

DeWine is up for reelection in 2022.

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Biden says 100 million Americans will have received stimulus checks by Wednesday

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the State Dining Room at the White House on February 5, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden said 100 million stimulus checks will have been distributed by Wednesday.
  • His administration will meet the goal set last week to send 100 million direct payments in 10 days.
  • For eligible Americans without direct deposit, the direct payments are still being delivered.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced that his administration will have distributed 100 million stimulus checks to Americans by Wednesday.

“The American Rescue Plan brings relief to a population that is badly hurting,” Biden said in remarks from Columbus, Ohio. “One more element of our response is that first and foremost commitment to get Americans” $1,400 stimulus checks.

“We’re on the verge of doing that as of tomorrow,” Biden said.

Biden’s update means that he will meet the goal he set last week to send 100 million direct payments to Americans in the next 10 days. The checks have been sent to the bank accounts of individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 a year. For eligible Americans without direct deposit, the direct payments are still being delivered in check form, Biden said Tuesday.

Last week, Biden also promised to have administered 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in 10 days. His administration surpassed that milestone on Friday, over a month ahead of schedule, as Biden initially planned to hit the mark in 100 days. As of Tuesday, 128 million doses have been administered in the United States.

The president has visited multiple states in recent days as part of a tour to promote the recently-enacted $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package and brief the public on its implementation.

First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also have been traveling across the country to champion the bill.

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Ohio’s attorney general is suing the Biden administration over the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill

Biden stimulus
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 relief package in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, March 15, 2021, in Washington

  • Ohio’s GOP attorney general is suing the Biden administration over the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
  • The lawsuit argues that requirements on the spending of state and local aid are unconstitutional.
  • Previously, 21 Republican attorneys general warned the administration they could take legal action.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ohio’s Republican attorney general filed the first of what could be several lawsuits against the Biden administration over the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

The Washington Post reported that Attorney General Dave Yost filed suit over the bill on Wednesday, charging that the requirements and restrictions on how $350 billion in state and local aid can be spent are “unconstitutional.”

Yost’s suit follows a letter from 21 GOP attorneys general to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen threatening legal action if the administration does not issue more clarity on how the money can be spent. The letter warned that the regulations on the state and local aid could be “the greatest attempted invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic.”

Congress designated $195 billion in funding under the law for state governments. But lawmakers moved to bar states from using federal money to cover the costs of tax cuts on their budgets.

Slashing taxes, some experts say, could amplify the economic damage from the pandemic on states and hamper their recovery.

“Cutting state taxes now would repeat a mistake many states made in the wake of the Great Recession: they cut taxes, which harmed families, undermined economic growth, and exacerbated economic inequality and racial injustice,” Nicholas Johnson, a state budget expert at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in a recent blog post.

The sweeping bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for many Americans, supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 per week, aid to state and local governments, money for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, aid to businesses affected by the pandemic, money for pensions, significant expansions of child tax credits, and enhancements to the Affordable Care Act, among other provisions.

President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on March 11 after the House approved the package in a 220-211 vote, following narrow passage in the US Senate by a vote of 50-49. Senate Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass the bill with a simple majority instead of the three-fifths threshold normally required to clear the filibuster.

The legislation did not get a single Republican vote in either chamber. One House Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, also voted against the bill. The law has drawn strong approval in various public polling.

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Trump begins settling scores with Republican opponents by endorsing a former aide’s primary challenge to an Ohio congressman who backed impeachment

trump anthony gonzalez
Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (L) and Former President Donald Trump (R).

  • Trump has endorsed Max Miller, a primary challenger running against Ohio’s Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.
  • Gonzalez is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last month.
  • Trump has indicated he would play an active role on the campaign trail during the 2022 elections. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Donald Trump endorsed former aide Max Miller in his primary challenge against one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president last month. 

Miller announced on Friday that he was launching a campaign against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, a second-term congressman and former professional football player who has been a vocal opponent of Trump since the January 6 insurrection and voted to impeach him last month.

“Current Rep. Anthony Gonzalez should not be representing the people of the 16th District because he does not represent their interest or their heart,” Trump said in a statement released Friday afternoon, according to Politico. “Max Miller has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

Miller, who played a key role in Trump’s 2016 and 2020 election campaigns, has not previously run for elected office. Politico reported last week he’d purchased a house in the northeast Ohio district to challenge Gonzalez.

 

 

“Max Miller is a wonderful person who did a great job at the White House and will be a fantastic Congressman,” Trump continued in his statement, according to CNN. “He is a Marine Veteran, a son of Ohio, and a true PATRIOT.”

The endorsement is an early sign of the former President’s plans to play and an active role on the campaign trail during the 2022 midterm elections – something he had previously indicated.

“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First,” Trump said in a statement earlier this month, according to Fox News. “We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.”

Gonzalez, who easily won reelection in November after first winning the district in 2018, sparked outrage after becoming one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January.

But the congressman has continued to stand by his vote, telling reporters last month he is willing to lose his seat over the decision, according to CNN.

Following the January 6 Capitol riots, which resulted in the deaths of five people, Gonzales said of Trump: “He was not sorry to see his unyieldingly loyal vice president or the Congress under attack by the mob he inspired. In fact, it seems he was happy about it or at the least enjoyed the scenes that were horrifying to most Americans across the country,” CNN reported.

Gonzalez isn’t the only Republican who Trump may target heading into the 2022 mid-term elections.

Trump has his eyes on Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who also voted for the former president’s impeachment and Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump blamed for not doing enough to challenge his election loss in the state.

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Baseless claims by an anti-lockdown activist that nobody under 19 had died of the coronavirus have been blocked by YouTube

Open Ohio Protesters
Protesters gather outside the Ohio State House in Columbus, Ohio on April 20, 2020.

  • The video featured Thomas Renz, an attorney for Ohio Stands Up, setting out a 35 minute legislative testimony.
  • It was filmed during a hearing on a bill that would allow legislators to vote against public health orders.
  • Renz makes many baseless claims including that nobody under 19 died of COVID-19 in Ohio despite the data.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

YouTube has removed a video of an Ohio committee hearing which it said contained COVID-19 misinformation.

The video featured Thomas Renz, an attorney for Ohio Stands Up, a group that aims to challenge the State of Emergency originally implemented by state Governor Mike DeWine on March 9, 2020.

In it, he set out a 35-minute legislative testimony during a hearing on a bill that would allow legislators to vote against public health orders amid the pandemic, according to the Associated Press.

Renz made several baseless claims, including that nobody from Ohio aged under 19 has died from COVID-19. Data from the Ohio Department of Health shows 10 children in the age group did indeed die of coronavirus, the Cleveland Scene reported.

He also said lockdown orders were “the most drastic curtailment of rights ever taken in American history,” the Cleveland Scene added. 

YouTube, which Google has owned since 2006, said that it had removed the video which was uploaded to The Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom channel this week, the Associated Press noted.

Google spokesperson Ivy Choi told the Associated Press: “We removed this video in accordance with our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content that claims a certain age group cannot transmit the virus.”

It came after an Ohio Senate bill, introduced by Republican lawmakers last month, limiting DeWine’s ability to issue and maintain executive action during emergencies, AP reported.

Supporters of the new bill argue that the restrictions have unnecessarily harmed small businesses and Ohio’s economy.

Opponents say it is unconstitutional and potentially could cost lives.

 

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Ohio lawmaker who questioned the COVID-19 hygiene of Black Americans now leads legislative health committee

Stephen Huffman
State Sen. Stephen Huffman (R-Ohio).

An Ohio GOP lawmaker and doctor who last year described Black Americans as “colored” in questioning their hygiene as it relates to contracting COVID-19 will now lead the state Senate Health Committee, according to the Associated Press.

This past June, state Sen. Stephen Huffman, an emergency room doctor, openly questioned the coronavirus prevention methods of Black Americans while speaking with Angela Dawson, a Black woman and the executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.

“I understand African Americans have higher instances of chronic conditions that makes them more susceptible to death from COVID,” Huffman said. “But why does that make them more susceptible just to get COVID?”

He added: “Could it just be that African Americans – or the colored population – do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear masks? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that just be the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?”

The comments fueled an uproar, with Huffman being fired from his emergency room position, along with the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calling for him to resign and Black lawmakers criticizing his statements.

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland, who is Black, said at the time that Huffman’s comments stunt any hope for changing the racial climate.

“When we talk about the internalized racism that is deeply ingrained in our institutions and the obstacles black Americans face in ever achieving meaningful change, this is exactly what we are talking about,” she said shortly after the incident. “The fact that a well-educated legislator, a vice chair of the Health Committee and a practicing medical doctor, would, in a public setting, nonchalantly use such antiquated terminology, paired with a hurtful, racist stereotype, all in one breath reflects how unconscious this problem of racism is for too many.”

Read more: Trump tested the Constitution and shredded traditions. Biden and the Democrats have big plans of their own about what to do next.

Huffman took to Facebook shortly after the incident to apologize for his comments.

“I had absolutely no malicious intent, but I recognize that my choice of words was unacceptable and hurtful,” he wrote. “I apologize, and I make no excuses. Those who know me will tell you that I have nothing but love and respect for all people, and I would never intentionally disrespect or denigrate anyone for any reason.”

Huffman was tapped to lead the health committee by his cousin, GOP Senate President Matt Huffman.

John Fortney, a spokesman for the Senate president, released a statement defending Huffman’s chairmanship.

“Senator Huffman … has a long record of providing health care to minority neighborhoods and has joined multiple mission trips at his own expense to treat those from disadvantaged countries,” he said. “He apologized months ago for asking a clumsy and awkwardly worded question. Sincere apologies deserve sincere forgiveness, and not the perpetual politically weaponized judgment of the cancel culture.”

After the announcement, Huffman said that he is “proud” to chair the committee and tried once again to make amends for his comments.

“In our state’s effort to help understand why COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting African Americans, more than seven months ago I asked an awkwardly worded question that unfortunately hurt many people,” he said. “I immediately apologized and have been working to heal any harm caused.”

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Despite having intimate knowledge of the pain and death caused by the coronavirus, a surprising number of US healthcare workers are refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine

vaccine healthcare workers us
A dentist receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Anaheim on January 8, 2020.

  • A large number of healthcare workers in US nursing homes and hospitals are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As much as 80% are turning down a shot in some institutions, according to AP.
  • In a number of states, officials have raised the alarm about the low take-up rate of vaccines among healthcare workers.
  • Vaccine skepticism is higher than average among those working in a healthcare setting. Three in ten say they are hesitant to get vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has had to warn frontline staff that if they want a vaccine any time soon, they must act now.
  • In recent days, the US has broken records for both the highest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases and for the highest daily death toll.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In American nursing homes and hospitals, a surprising number of healthcare workers are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

As many as 80% of staff are turning down a vaccine in some institutions, according to AP. This is due to unfounded fears about the side-effects of these life-saving shots, AP reported.

The two vaccines administered in the US have been FDA approved, meaning that the benefits outweigh any potential risks. Additionally, neither vaccine has raised any major safety concerns in large-scale clinical trials.

Nonetheless, skepticism exists among healthcare workers and the American public at large.

Dr. Joseph Varon, a critical care doctor from Houston, has said that more than half of the nurses in his unit are objecting to getting inoculated for political reasons. “Most of the reasons why most of my people don’t want to get the vaccine are politically motivated,” Varon told NPR.

In Portland, Oregon, Dr. Stephen Noble, a cardiothoracic surgeon told AP: “I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig. At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data.”

About a quarter (27%) of the American public is hesitant to get a vaccine, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. This rises to 29% of those who work in a health care setting, the study shows.

In Ohio, 60% of the state’s nursing home workers have decided against a vaccine, the governor said.

Gov. Mike DeWine has announced that he hopes to instill a “sense of urgency” in his state’s healthcare workers by offering a stark warning. He has told frontline staff they could miss out on getting a vaccine any time soon if they don’t act now, according to The Columbus Dispatch

“Our message today is the train may not be coming back for a while,” DeWine said at a press conference.

In other states, there is also concern about the low take-up rates of vaccines by frontline workers.

In North Carolina, public health officials revealed that more than half of those working in nursing homes have so far refused to get a shot, according to AP.

A significant proportion of nursing staff in West Virginia is also refusing to get vaccinated. About 45% have said no to a COVID-19 jab, AP reported.

Martin Wright, who leads the West Virginia Health Care Association, blamed fast-spreading misinformation about vaccines: “It’s a race against social media,” he said.

Between 20 and 40% of frontline workers in Los Angeles have also refused a COVID-19 shot, public health officials the Los Angeles Times. In neighboring Riverside County, the paper says this rises to 50%.

In a bid to increase the vaccination rates among healthcare workers a number of administrators have resorted to offering raffle tickets and free breakfasts at Waffle House in exchange for a jab, AP reported.

So far, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, the US has administered over seven million vaccine doses. 

The need to successfully roll out the vaccine has never been more apparent. In recent days, the US has broken records for both the highest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases and for the highest daily death toll.

worldometer covid cases us
Daily new cases of COVID-19 in the United States

On Friday, there were a record-breaking 307,579 new daily cases, according to Worldometer.

On Thursday, Worldometer shows that 4,245 people died from coronavirus-related complications,

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An Ohio family court judge banned the kids of parents in a custody battle from getting COVID-19 tests unless he approved it

GettyImages 1210482711
Protesters are seen holding signs at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, United States on April 20, 2020. As part of nation wide protests in the United States, hundreds gathered at the Ohio State House demanding that Gov. DeWine ends the stay home order.

  • Timothy Grendell, a family court judge in Ohio, in October banned two parents from having their “children undergo COVID-19 testing” unless they were approved by him, court records obtained by ProPublica showed.
  • Grendell has on several occasions publicly shared his views contesting the restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, which he has referred to as “panic-ademic.”
  • When Grendell learned one of the kids received a coronavirus test per the doctor’s order before being admitted to the hospital for breathing problems, he threatened the mother with contempt of court.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Ohio juvenile court Judge Timothy Grendell has been outspoken about his belief that the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown.

At a protest rally in May, just steps away from where he presides over family court, Grendell proclaimed that public health restrictions to contain the pandemic were unconstitutional and “we should be allowed to get back to our lives.” The following month, he testified to state lawmakers in Columbus that health authorities and a “drumbeat” of media coverage had “created an atmosphere of fear” surrounding the virus.

But Grendell hasn’t confined his views to the public square. A few weeks after he testified to lawmakers, he referred to the pandemic as a “panic-ademic” in the midst of a custody proceeding in his courtroom in Geauga County, outside Cleveland. And he has claimed that 15 mothers in his court have used the virus as an excuse in custody cases to “mess with” their exes’ parenting time.

Then, on Oct. 2, Grendell made an order that legal experts call unheard of, and medical experts say could cause harm. The judge banned two parents, who were wrangling over custody of their young boys, from having the “children undergo COVID-19 testing” without his approval, according to the court record.

A doctor subsequently ordered a coronavirus test for one of the boys before admitting him to a children’s hospital for severe breathing problems. When Grendell found out, he threatened to find the mother in contempt of court, a move that could lead to her being thrown in jail.

Legally, judges have wide discretion to resolve disputes between parents. Some courts have issued standing orders that general concerns about COVID-19 should not disrupt established parenting schedules. But medical experts told ProPublica that a COVID-19 test is often essential for health care providers to protect themselves and to decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

“We are unable to provide the right kind of care without it,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s basically blindfolding us or asking us to take care of someone with an arm tied behind our back.”

Judges around the country have received media attention for their rulings related to the pandemic. ProPublica reported in July that a Michigan judge sent a 15-year-old girl to juvenile detention, ruling she violated her probation by failing to complete her homework while remote learning. The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release later that month.

In April, a judge in South Florida temporarily took custody away from a doctor because she treated patients with COVID-19, the Miami Herald reported. In Iowa, a judge sentenced a mother to 10 days in jail for refusing to follow a child visitation ruling due to COVID-19 concerns, according to the Sioux City Journal. And another judge in South Florida required a mom to wear a mask if she wanted to see her child, wrote the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

ohio protest
The conflict between public health precautions and individual freedoms has been extreme in Ohio, which was among the first states to issue sweeping health orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The conflict between public health precautions and individual freedoms has been extreme in Ohio, which was among the first states to issue sweeping health orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Rising discontent with the orders this spring led angry citizens to march on the Ohio Statehouse, chanting “Open Ohio” and breaking several windows. Protesters showed up at the suburban Columbus home of Amy Acton, then the director of the Ohio Department of Health. Some carried rifles. One woman carried a sign with an anti-Semitic message aimed at Acton, who is Jewish. Acton later resigned and some conservative lawmakers turned their attention to Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, with some demanding his impeachment and his arrest, to no avail.

Grendell’s wife, Diane, an Ohio state representative and former appellate judge, introduced legislation to terminate the state COVID-19 emergency public health orders.

Infection numbers were low early on in Ohio, but since October the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases has spiked tenfold, to about 10,000 on Dec. 13. Daily deaths and hospitalizations also have jumped to record highs.

Timothy Grendell, a Republican former legislator who has been on the bench for more than a decade, has long been a polarizing figure in Ohio political and legal circles. That reputation extends to his courtroom. ProPublica has spoken to mothers and grandmothers in four additional cases who said Grendell has been unfair to them. Some said they have filed complaints against him. Investigations are confidential until concluded; Grendell has not been disciplined by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In May, Grendell sent Stacy Hartman’s two teenage sons to juvenile detention after they refused a court-ordered visit with their father. The judge also threatened to hold Hartman in contempt of court and jail her if she didn’t take them to the visit, according to a court transcript. Hartman told ProPublica that she begged that her two boys not be locked up during a pandemic. After the local ABC television affiliate reported on the story, Hartman said mothers and some grandmothers started to call her with stories about their cases in Grendell’s courtroom. Each of the cases was different. But Hartman was struck by one similarity: “Everybody is scared about what he is going to do.”

The judge also has been embroiled in public spats, sometimes with other elected or political officials. In one high-profile example, in 2014, he threatened to hold the chairwoman of the Geauga County Republican Party in contempt of court after he learned she had privately characterized him as a “narcissist and mentally ill.” The matter was dropped.

Several family law attorneys told ProPublica that they refuse to take cases in Grendell’s court because they do not believe he treats parties in cases fairly. They asked to speak on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to risk the judge filing a complaint against their licenses.

Grendell declined ProPublica’s request to be interviewed for this story. In his most recent judgment entry, on Dec. 9, he said the mother at the center of the COVID-19 testing case had failed to return the children on several occasions, “using COVID-19 or her concerns about the children and COVID-19 as the reason for not complying with the Court’s orders.”

Through his court administrator, Grendell said that he was prohibited from commenting on pending cases, or about broader accusations related to his conduct. He said his decisions are “always in the best interest of the children” and “based on sound law and the actual facts in the case.” Grendell reiterated that he has seen situations where one parent repeatedly misuses COVID-19 testing and quarantining to prevent the other parent from spending court-ordered time with children.

“The court is fully cognizant of the seriousness of COVID and understands the need for all members of the public to be careful and to engage in the necessary and recommended safeguards,” Grendell said.

Amplifying a dispute

Coronavirus patient
The US surpassed 17 million cases of coronavirus and recorded over 310,000 deaths related to the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic had exacerbated an already tense parenting arrangement between Richard Sherrick and Kimberly Page, who were never married but have two boys who are 6 and 4. The two have lobbed accusations and counter-accusations against each other. Page felt ongoing anxiety about her health and the health of the boys. Medical records she provided to ProPublica document the boys’ chronic conditions, including asthma, autism and other ailments. The boys’ Cleveland Clinic pediatrician had deemed them high risk if they became exposed to the coronavirus.

On four occasions since April, Page said, the boys were quarantined or they had to be taken to the doctor or hospital for treatment, which delayed their return to Sherrick. The delays were typically brief, she said. She said that she communicated with her ex each time, and that there have been times in the past when he had delayed returning them to her.

Sherrick and his attorney, Robert Zulandt, did not return multiple requests from ProPublica to comment. In court, Sherrick has accused Page of using visits to doctors and hospitals as an excuse to keep the boys longer than her allotted parenting time. He also has alleged that his ex is obsessive to the point that it creates fear and anxiety for the children and that she has had the children overtreated and tested for COVID-19 and other illnesses. She has disputed those characterizations.

After Grendell issued his ruling prohibiting a COVID-19 test without his permission, Page contacted Geauga County Health Commissioner Tom Quade to talk about it. Quade told ProPublica that he reached out to his agency’s lawyer but ultimately decided not to get involved because the order didn’t apply to his agency, which does not provide COVID testing.

Quade said he did not have all the details about the judge’s order, but it seemed consistent with Grendell’s “this is a big nothingburger” feeling about COVID-19. In their mostly rural county of about 90,000 people, the judge and his wife have repeatedly made public comments that minimize the health threat of the pandemic, he said.

Family court judges like Grendell have wide discretion to make decisions in the best interests of children in the middle of custody or abuse cases, experts say.

There are times a judge could issue orders that either require medical treatment or forbid it, like if a child had terminal cancer and the parents disagreed about treatment, said Sharona Hoffman, co-director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University. But those types of decisions are generally made after a judge hears evidence from both sides on the issues, Hoffman said. In this case, Grendell made the order on his own motion, without a specific request from either parent to ban the test.

“There is no downside to getting a COVID test,” Hoffman said.

The danger of the judge’s order, if followed, is that it might lead to one of the boys not getting medical treatment he needs, said Michelle Mello, a health law and policy professor at Stanford University. What’s striking from a medical-legal perspective, Mello said, is that the child’s test was given during a hospital visit. “It’s standard of care,” Mello said. “Nobody gets into a hospital and around other patients without a COVID test. There’s a public health reason.”

Page said her attorneys warned her against taking her child to the hospital on Nov. 2 for fear of violating the judge’s order. But her son’s breathing was so labored that she and her new husband, a doctor, believed he had to go to Akron Children’s Hospital. The child was administered a COVID-19 test before being admitted and treated during an overnight stay. The test was negative.

The hospital declined to comment about the case, but said in a statement that it performs COVID-19 tests when they are deemed medically necessary and on patients who are admitted with respiratory symptoms.

Saying Page had failed to return the children on time, Sherrick filed an emergency motion with the judge for custody of the children. The next day, Grendell suspended Page’s custody and sent his constable to the hospital to retrieve the child and hand him off to his father. The child’s younger brother was picked up from the home of Sherrick’s mother.

About a week later, Grendell ordered Page to appear before him “to show cause why you should not be held in Contempt of Court for failing to abide by parenting time … and for failing to abide by the order prohibiting COVID-19 testing, unless approved by the Court first.”

On Nov. 20, Grendell issued a new interim order that the children could be tested if they had symptoms and if their pediatrician recommended it. That same day the court ordered supervised visitation. Page has disagreed about the parameters suggested for visitation, so she still has not seen her children.

Page’s attorney said she could still be held in contempt of court, for violating the original order not to have the children tested for COVID-19. Hearings in the case have been delayed until January.

‘Panic-ademic’

Grendell’s no-testing order wasn’t the first time COVID-19 had been a point of contention in the case.

Page accused Sherrick of failing to provide adequate medical care for the boys, and her parenting time included multiple visits to doctors and emergency rooms. Page’s medical records show they have undergone five tests for COVID-19 between them.

In a June 29 hearing, Grendell dismissed the virus as a relevant factor: “There is zero evidence that COVID is a danger to 6-year-olds – zip,” Grendell said, according to the court reporter’s transcript of the hearing.

Page had a fever the day before the hearing, a possible symptom of COVID-19, so she sat in her car. Grendell accused her and other mothers – at least 15 total, he said – of improperly using the virus as “a reason to mess with” the parenting time of fathers. “So this is like the cause du jour,” Grendell said. “Hey, you know, I want to mess with the ex or with the dads, since most of these people never married, and COVID-19 gives me an excuse to mess with his parenting schedule.”

Earlier in the pandemic, the COVID-19 “fear factor” made sense, Grendell continued. But now that it was “almost July 1st, it’s not doing much for me,” he said.

Before COVID-19, people brought home colds and diseases every day, he said, branding the pandemic a “panic-ademic.”

coronavirus mask
Pandemic fatigue looms over America as new daily coronavirus cases skyrocket.

Near the conclusion of the hearing, Grendell issued a threat: “I’m going to make this crystal clear,” he said. “The next person who doesn’t follow the orders is going to see a contempt citation coming their way.”

Friction between Page and Sherrick continued. She thought it was too risky for her elder son to attend school in person. He wanted her to stop scheduling so many medical appointments for the children, which delayed their return to him. On Sept. 23, Page went to Sherrick’s home and picked up the child to take him to the hospital, according to a court filing, and was late returning him to Sherrick. Sherrick filed a handwritten motion the next day, claiming Page had a pattern of not returning the boys, and asking for custody.

Grendell then personally called Page’s cellphone, and left a voicemail, saying Sherrick said the child needed to be returned, and instructing her to call him. “I certainly would like an explanation, and I don’t believe COVID at this time period is a legitimate one,” he said on her voicemail, which was provided to her attorneys and ProPublica. It is highly unusual for a judge to call a litigant in a proceeding directly. Grendell did not return ProPublica’s request to comment about the voicemail.

Grendell’s order prohibiting testing for COVID-19 came about a week later. The evidence in the dispute still has not been heard in court.

‘He Knows He Makes the Rules’

Page said she reached a breaking point after losing custody of her children and being accused of contempt of court. One set of attorneys warned her not to speak publicly about her case and withdrew from representing her after she ignored their advice.

As a mother, Page said she felt she had to speak out because attorneys have been reluctant to challenge Grendell and without that, she can’t see the case getting resolved fairly. “This judge needs to be held accountable to somebody other than our family,” Page said.

Page’s new attorney, Lee Potts, said when he took over the case he understood it was complicated. But the blanket order prohibiting COVID-19 testing seemed to “come out of nowhere.”

Since Grendell himself made the motion, it made Potts wonder: “Who is telling you this stuff? How are you getting this information?”

Though Sherrick did not respond to requests for comment, his mother, Bonnie Sherrick, lamented the effect the case is having on her grandchildren. She said that her son, as well as Page and Grendell, have all contributed to the problems, but that there’s no reason Page should be penalized for properly managing the medical conditions of the children. “She has been a good mother,” Sherrick said of Page.

Nobody seems to be able to stop Grendell, Bonnie Sherrick said of the judge. “He knows he makes the rules.”

Maya Miller contributed reporting.

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