by Bob Fitrakis
There’s a peculiar lawsuit pending in Franklin County: Fox Investigation, Inc. vs. Linda Leisure.
Linda Leisure first met death row inmates during her volunteer work as a prison minister in Ohio. Inspired by President Bush’s call for “volunteerism” she worked up the nerve to visit men she feared, yet wanted to help. Not unlike the Susan Sarandon character in Dead Man Walking, she listened to their stories and ministered to their needs.
One of those man’s needs, it turned out, involved helping the wife of death-row inmate John Spirko prove that her husband was not guilty. The Spirko case peaked Leisure’s interest in investigating murder cases. She felt her talents might be better used in ensuring that justice was being done in individual cases rather than preaching to the condemned. Leisure took a job with Fox Investigation, Inc., a private investigating firm headed by Richard H. Smith, an ex-Columbus police officer and an ex-investigator at the Ohio Public Defender’s Office (OPDO). Fox Investigation often did contract work for the OPDO investigating the cases of death row inmates.
Little did Leisure know the reasons why Smith was no longer a cop or state investigator. But she quickly found out why. Soon after going to work at Fox, Leisure claims that Smith “wanted me to falsify time records and interviews on these murder cases.” Appalled, she left Fox Investigation, convinced that certain death row inmates were being denied basic “due process” guaranteed them under the Constitution. And even more frightening, that as a result, some innocent American citizen might be executed. This spurred her into action.
On October 25, 1994 Leisure sent a letter to Common Pleas Judge James O’Grady outlining the above allegations against Smith. On November 14, Leisure voluntarily took and passed a polygraph exam substantiating her charges. But it was politics as usual in the Franklin County Courts and nobody took her accusations seriously, as Smith continued to do business.
Fortuitously, Leisure shared the same attorney as Chester “Briss” Craig, former deputy investigator at the OPDO. Craig informed her that he had been Smith’s boss at the OPDO and had complained to the Ohio Inspector General with similar concerns. In January 1992, Craig charged “…that some of the investigators were turning in false reports and were not providing the support services to the attorneys as required.” Leisure tracked down the state investigative report that essentially verified Craig’s allegations.
The report was none too kind to her old boss, Mr. Smith. During his tenure from April 1983 to November 1988 at the OPDO, Smith was fond of referring to black defendants as “niggers” and white ones as “scumbags.” These “niggers” and “scumbags” were the very clients Smith was hired to work for and investigate their claims of innocence.
Smith told several of his fellow investigators that he didn’t like “working for a nigger,” referring to Craig. Smith admitted in the report that he had arranged for police friends to arrest Deputy Director Craig on a drunk driving charge. “I don’t consider it a conspiracy at all. I was just going to let the man expose himself,” Smith said of Craig.
Speaking of exposing oneself, it turns out that Smith had been forced off the Columbus Police force for doing just that with his most private parts to seven different women, including five minors on October 9, 1981. He had previously been reprimanded many times for various acts of misconduct, including engaging in sex while on duty, and showing up drunk and threatening his ex-wife at her house.
Who was exposing who?
Leisure tried desperately to take the story to the press, with no luck. Depressed and nearly defeated, she picked up a copy of the now-defunct Columbus Free Press, which I edited at the time. She claims God spoke to her and told her that I would publish the story. Who was I to argue with God, particularly when he sends me such a hot story?
Anyway, Leisure’s story appeared on the cover of the January 1995 Free Press. Happy ending? Alas, hardly.
Leisure began to receive harassing and threatening phone calls; someone mailed drugs to her house; and Fox Investigation and Richard Smith sued Linda Leisure for $150,000 in damages due to his loss of reputation. Leisure’s been unable to hold a steady job and had to re-mortgage her home in order to pay an attorney.
After perusing Mr. Smith’s Columbus police files, Leisure’s attorney recently wrote to Smith’s attorney: “Quite frankly, after review of such file, I believe Mr. Smith would have great difficulty proving to a jury that any action by Miss Leisure caused damage to his reputation.” Standard legal principle: one must first have a reputation before it can be damaged.
Leisure was moved by the spirit, driven by her fund.