Anti-porn Ballbusting Sheriff Simon Leis Retiring in January; Larry Flynt Calls him a Right-Wing Nut Job

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from www.cincinnati.com – In his 42 years in public office, Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. has seen great changes.

His critics and supporters, though, say he’s changed little as he nears his Jan. 6 retirement.

He was and is the hard-headed, bulldog politician who views himself as the area’s moral compass while privately being a prankster who loves a good joke and a good time.

“He has certain views, and he does what he thinks is right. I think he doesn’t care what people think about him,” said Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert Nadel, a longtime friend. “He’s not afraid. I think that describes him best.”

Leis has been applauded and vilified. He’s been called an anachronism and repressive, thrust into the national spotlight and earning headlines, mostly negative, while easily winning every election for three offices – prosecutor, judge and sheriff – over four decades. He battled porn publisher Larry Flynt, had an art museum director arrested and fought with his own political party. He’s also always easily won re-election and earned the praise of many.

“I think he was awfully bad for Cincinnati, quite frankly,” said Dennis Barrie, director of the Contemporary Arts Center in 1990 when Barrie was arrested for presenting a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit that included homoerotic photos. “He created an image for the city (that) actually gave it a black eye across the country.”

Leis preaches loyalty to him and his offices, but he has been chastised by his Republican Party for verbally attacking other GOP office-holders who disagree with him.

“He told me I was his worst hire in his whole career,” said Prosecutor Joe Deters, a former Hamilton County Republican Party chairman who was hired as an assistant prosecutor by Leis.

The two often disagreed, often when Leis wanted someone prosecuted. For example, Leis was upset that Deters wouldn’t prosecute a local hotel that sold what Leis believed were obscene videos to its customers. Instead of prosecuting, Deters contacted the hotel owner who, unaware the tapes were being sold to customers, ended the practice.

Leis insists on law and order and its preservation, but often went to war in what critics saw as efforts to limit the First Amendment and personal rights.

“He’s another one of those right-wing nut jobs who’s got the whole country screwed up,” said Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt, who had notorious obscenity battles with Prosecutor Leis and Sheriff Leis.

“I think he’s an embarrassment for Hamilton County.”

Leis is a former U.S. Marine who also participated in a celebrity dance competition.

“I don’t necessarily agree with him on every position he takes,” said prominent criminal defense attorney Merlyn Shiverdecker, who was hired by Leis as an assistant prosecutor. “There’s not a … phony bone in his body.”

Leis, who often distrusted and criticized the media, didn’t return numerous phone calls over weeks for this story.

Much of Leis’ professional philosophy comes from his father, a former judge and prosecutor who was tapped by state officials in the 1950s to try to eradicate organized crime across Ohio. A post-college stint in the Marines gave Leis the spit-and-polish persona he exudes – and insists on from others.

He attacked smut shops, pornographic magazine and video sales with a vengeance. In 1976, Leis prosecuted Flynt for selling Hustler items here. Initially, Leis won a conviction but was overturned on appeal.

In 1999, Sheriff Leis’ office charged Flynt with obscenity-related crimes. Just as the trial was to start, Flynt’s store pleaded guilty and agreed to sell no more explicit videos. Today, there are two Flynt stores Downtown, one owned by Larry Flynt, the other by his brother, Jimmy Flynt.

Because of a Leis investigation, Barrie was arrested for allowing the CAC to host the Mapplethorpe exhibit Leis believed was obscene because it showed homoerotic photos. “I am totally against homosexuality,” Leis told The Enquirer in 1995. Barrie, who faced jail time on the charges, and CAC were acquitted, and the exhibit was shown in Cincinnati.

Sheriff Leis also quelled a potential disturbance the day after the 2001 Cincinnati riots. Leis sat outside the Hamilton County Courthouse alone and wearing a suit as dozens of angry people yelled and screamed. One told Leis they wanted action. He calmly told them he respected their right to be heard but told them they would do it peacefully. The men left.

Now Leis is retiring and leaving a legacy of my-way-or-no-way. Friends say he’s fine with that.

“I hope that he’s remembered for what his beliefs are,” said attorney Lou Sirkin, who represented Flynt and Barrie in their cases. “Whether right, wrong or indifferent, he carried out what he believed in.”

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