Frank Jackson and Kevin Kelley Say City Has Responded to Referendum Coalition's Demands: Ohio Supreme Court Will Decide

click to enlarge The Q Deal referendum coalition, after signatures were rejected at City Hall (5/22/17). - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
The Q Deal referendum coalition, after signatures were rejected at City Hall (5/22/17).
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley announced Monday afternoon that Law Director Barbara Langhenry had filed a mandamus action in the Supreme Court of Ohio against Clerk of Council Pat Britt, and that both parties have retained outside attorneys.

Kelley described the action as that which was requested in a taxpayer demand letter issued by the attorneys representing the referendum coalition. He said it was the "most expeditious way" to resolve the issue.

"By going to the supreme court in this manner, we will be able to resolve this, to give the people the resolution they deserve in the quickest way possible," Kelley said.

The Ohio Supreme Court will decide, then, between two "equally valid" constitutional arguments, according to Jackson (though not, certainly, according to the referendum coalition's attorneys).

"This has nothing to do with the Q Deal itself," the Mayor clarified, stating that both he and Kelley were on-record supporting the deal. "This is really about two constitutional legal arguments, one interfering with contracts and another, basically, whether or not people will basically be denied the right to vote. Whatever the conclusion is, we will abide by as a city."

Because the city's law director will be filing this writ of mandamus against the Clerk, Kelley said that both Langhenry and Britt had chosen to retain outside counsel to avoid conflict of interest issues. The city said they would provide the names of the attorneys in follow-up correspondence.

As was noted at the press conference, though, this action effectively precludes the involvement of the Chandra Law firm going forward. (Attorneys Peter Pattakos, who has represented Scene, and Subodh Chandra are representing the referendum coalition).

Jackson said that while this was indeed the case, the city was nonetheless responding to what the letter asked the city to do.

Peter Pattakos disagreed. He said that they'd asked specifically to be named as defendants in the suit. This is true:

"If you file litigation against the Clerk of Council under your R.C. 733.58 and Charter § 89 duties, then please name our clients as party defendants under R.C. 733.581," the letter requests, "so that we may assist in presenting all issues of law and fact in the matter as that statute authorizes."

Chandra was dismayed when Scene reached him by phone.

"I have been a litigator for more than two decades," he said. "I thought I had seen everything. But I have never seen a party working to orchestrate a suit against himself, telling himself to do the right thing."

Chandra said that by Kelley's participation in the press conference, it was clear he was helping to coordinate the suit against Pat Britt (who can hardly be understood, according to Chandra, as an independent actor). As Clerk, Britt works for the Council President.

"Why was Kelley at this press conference?" Chandra asked. "All he has to do is walk down the hallway and say, 'Madame Clerk, I screwed up. Please accept those petitions.'"  

Chandra said shipping this to the Ohio Supreme Court was a "cop out. [Kelley] either stands for democracy or he doesn't. He's a party in this case. He doesn't get to equivocate."

Kelley, at the press conference, said the lawyers they chose for Langhenry and Britt were some of the best municipal lawyers in town.

"When you look at the quality of the attorneys on both sides of this, you'll realize this is not something we're doing to make us [unclear]. We're really going to lay out the whole issue and come to the right conclusion," Kelley said. "The Mayor and I have had long conversations about this. The people did sign a petition. We respect that. We don't want to deny anybody their rights, and we thought that it was really important to take the course that resolves this issue for all parties involved."

Kelley said the last time the city filed a mandamus action with the state Supreme Court, it was resolved in about eight weeks.

"Get ready for them to throw the case," said Chandra.