CINCINNATI - Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis, Jr. didn’t necessarily plan on a life of public service. It just sort of happened.
A lawyer by trade, he was working in the city of Cincinnati solicitor’s office when his dad, Hamilton County Judge Simon Leis, Sr., told him the Hamilton County Republican Party wanted to make Simon Jr. the county prosecutor.
“That’s the way it happened,” said Sheriff Leis. “One day I walked out of my office and the newspaper headline read, ‘Leis Appointed Prosecutor.’”
Fourty-four years and three different elected positions in Hamilton County later, and Simon Leis, Jr. is as ready as a driven, disciplined man like him can be to retire.
When looking back on his career in politics and public life, it is quite a walk through Cincinnati history. When Leis was Hamilton County Prosecutor, an attorney from Northern Kentucky walked into his office and gave him information about a young Cincinnati city councilman who was frequenting houses of prostitution. It was a courtesy call, of sorts by the attorney to the prosecutor. The city councilman was none other than Jerry Springer.
“Oh Jerry Springer,” said Leis. “He was caught in whorehouses across the river. Well, he used a check to pay for the services. And based on the check and based upon the testimony of the prostitute, he was a dead duck.”
Leis decided to keep the matter quiet. He went to the chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic party, who spoke to Springer. Springer was to resign and leave town.
“He resigned,” said Leis. “But he didn’t leave town.”
Instead, Springer ran for mayor of Cincinnati and won. Leis said he has no hard feelings for Springer. In fact, he says, when he sees the man now famous for his talk show, “The Jerry Springer Show,” they have a good laugh.
But he can’t say the same thing for Larry Flynt. The man who made the porn magazine, “Hustler” is simply the lowest form of human being, according to Leis. So it was in 1977 that Prosecutor Leis decided to prosecute Flynt for obscenity. It was a hard-fought battle on both sides, making headlines nationally, but ultimately, Leis’ prosecution prevailed.
“I remember prosecuting that case,” said Leis. “I stood in front of the jury box and I slowly drew a line with chalk on the floor from one end of the jury box to the other. And I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s up to you to set the standards of the community. You have the authority to do it in this case.’ And it happened. They convicted.”
In 1983, Leis was appointed a judgeship in Hamilton County. He served on the bench until 1987, when he was appointed to office of sheriff, where he’s served for 25 years. But another high-profile situation awaited Leis. And once again, it had to do with obscenity.
In 1990, a former WCPO-TV reporter brought to Leis copies of photographs that were hanging in the Contemporary Arts Center by a budding photographer named Robert Maplethorp. The photographs contained homoerotic images and compelled Leis to raid the museum. Charges were filed against the museum’s director, a trial ensued, but this time the jury did not convict.
The past 20 or so years have been, in comparison, relatively quiet for Leis and his office. Personally, he and his wife, Margery, raised their three daughters, Jodi, Julie and Jill. Leis never lost an election. He often didn’t even have an opponent. He was known for running a tight ship and expected the best physically and mentally of his deputies.
In spring of 2012, Leis announced he would not run for another term. Leis said he doesn’t have any regrets about his decision.
“It was time to go. I knew it was time to go,” he said. “I’m pushing 79 now and I don’t have the sharpness I should have any more.”
This is not the end of Leis’ life of public service. The thought of complete retirement perhaps too much for he and his wife, Leis has asked to be a visiting judge in the Hamilton County system.
“This community has been very good to me,” said Leis. “I love Hamilton County. I love everything about it. I’ll never leave it.”
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