CINCINNATI - After five decades of service in Hamilton County, Sheriff Simon L. Leis, a man who wore many hats within the county and the city is set to call it a day.
Appearing on the Bill Cunningham show on 700-WLW Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Leis confirmed what has been speculated recently—he is retiring after a long career as sheriff, but started out 50 years ago in the courts.
The 77-year-old said that he would like to appoint Chief Deputy Sean Donovan as the next sheriff, but told his staff that he will finish his term that ends in 2012, according to a sheriff’s office spokesperson.
Leis, who has served the citizens of Hamilton County in some capacity since 1961, was appointed sheriff in 1987. He was re-elected to four-year terms in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
But before he was sheriff, Leis served in the U.S. Marine Corp—then got his start politically, when he worked as the Court Constable for Common Pleas Judges Charles E. Weber and Fred L. Hoffman.
Leis moved on to his work in Cincinnati as an Assistant City Prosecutor and Assistant City Solicitor, 1st Assistant U.S. Attorney, and a judge in the Common Pleas Court, which he served from 1983-87.
From 1971-1983, he was Hamilton County Prosecutor, and made headlines for his work.
His investigation forced then-City Councilman Jerry Springer to resign. Later, Springer was elected as mayor.
In 1976, he convicted Cincinnati's Police Chief, Carl Goodin, for “taking kick-backs.”
Maybe his most prominent conviction landed him national acclaim. In 1977, he convicted Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine, on obscenity charges. This case spawned the 1996 movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” He was played by James Carville.
Two Hustler stores are now located downtown, on Elm and Seventh streets, and open for business.
As the sheriff since ’87, Leis was the center of controversy.
In 1990, photographer/artist (the late) Robert Mapplethorpe came to the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati to show his work. Leis was in opposition of the exhibit.
This turned into another movie “Dirty Pictures” portraying the case against the artist about whether or not seven of his photographs would be considered obscene. A jury found that the pictures were not obscene. Craig T. Nelson played Leis in the movie.
Over the years, Leis took a stand on some key issues for the county.
Jail overcrowding has been one of the hot-button topics with the sheriff.
Under his watch, Queensgate jail closed in 2008 for safety reasons, taking more than 800 inmate beds with it. In turn, pushing offenders back out onto the street because of a lack of space in the remaining three jail sites, housing just over 2,000 beds.
“We’re releasing people that shouldn’t be released,” said Leis to 9 News in 2009.
Leis approached officials and the public to vote on a tax that would build a new jail, but to no avail.
He has been in favor of a ‘metro government’—combining city and county law enforcement, folding them both into the sheriff’s department.
"You have 50 or 60 (police) chiefs in this county sitting on their thumbs," Leis said to CityBeat in 2008.
"It just makes so much God-damned sense.”
More recently, the sheriff visited Portland, Ore., and examined its streetcar system. In turn, he came back to the Queen City in favor of Cincinnati’s own streetcar initiative.
“Now that I’ve seen the effects these rail systems can have on cities like Cincinnati. I support the plan. If it were up to me, I would start building the Cincinnati Streetcar tomorrow,” he told 9 News in 2010.
Leis was instrumental in not only law on land, but also moving his patrol to water and air. He established the Sheriff's Aviation Unit with purchase of first helicopter in 1989 and a second in 1994—paid for with drug forfeiture funds. He also established the Sheriff's Marine Patrol in 1988, purchasing the department’s first boat—in direct correlation with the Underwater Search & Recovery (DIVE) Team. The department now owns three boats and two wave runners.
Leis is a graduate of St. Xavier High School, Xavier University and NKU’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law.
Over the years, he has been a supporter of WCPO’s Holiday Wishes fundraiser, which raises money to buy toys for underprivileged students in the Tri-State.
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