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Judge who ordered men not to procreate for failure to pay child support: ‘It seemed like a common sense approach’

Susan Tebben, Ohio Capital Journal

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Photo courtesy Ohio Supreme Court

London Chapman was convicted of multiple counts of failing to pay child support in Lorain County. In a separate case, Lee Anderson pleaded guilty to his own counts of nonsupport of dependents.

The sentences included probation, alcohol and drug screenings, restitution and requirements to obtain employment.

“In addition, the court ordered Chapman ‘to make all reasonable efforts to avoid impregnating a woman during the community control period or until such time that (he) can prove to the Court that he is able to provide support for his children he already has…’,” according to court documents.

In both cases, Lorain County Probate Judge James Walther issued the sentence in the case.

After appeals in both cases reached the Ohio Supreme Court late last year, the high court reversed Walther’s rulings, saying an impregnation condition shouldn’t be a part of a court sentence.

“The procreation prohibition is not reasonably related to the goals of community control, nor is it reasonably tailored to avoid impinging Chapman’s liberty no more than necessary,” Justice Patrick DeWine wrote in the majority decision on the Chapman case.

In reversing the decision in the Anderson case, the court simply cited the Chapman case as a reason to send the case back to the probate court for reconsideration.

While Walther said he stopped imposing the anti-procreation sentence as the two cases went through their appeals, he said the use of it “seemed like a common-sense approach to me.”

“I thought of it as a way to motivate the persons on probation to go out and get a job and at least have a way of paying their child support,” Walther told the Capital Journal on Tuesday.

The state Supreme Court said both that “there is no question that procreation is a fundamental right protected under the United States Constitution,” and that imposition of that sentence doesn’t address whether or not someone would commit the same crime again.

“No doubt fathering another child would increase Chapman’s support obligations, but it would have little effect on preventing the criminal conduct that the statute proscribes,” the Supreme Court majority stated.

The court said the law was clear once a monthly child support payment is set, the law is the same “whether Chapman has seven children, or 77.”

Walther conceded the Supreme Court was right about payments, but took issue with their advisement that instead of a procreation prohibition, the court help with job placement, or financial planning. He took issue because he said the court already does those things.

“I came to the realization one day that not everybody grew up with maybe the same background,” Walther said. “I saw my dad go to work every day and go to a second job on the weekends.”

With that in mind, he said he refers defendants to job training programs and takes pictures of “help wanted” signs and posts them near his courtroom.

According to data from the U.S. Census, 13.9% of the more than 300,000 people living in Lorain County full under the federal poverty line, and a median income between 2015 and 2019 of $58,427.

Despite rebuff from the state Supreme Court, Walther said the probation without procreation condition was not meant to be more severe than the crime.

“That wasn’t my point in doing that,” Walther said. “My point was that I thought it was more important for those probationers to focus on the children that had instead of falling further down the rabbit hole.”


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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