Law talking guy

Locally, Subodh Chandra is best known as a former Cleveland law director and candidate for state attorney general. Recently, Chandra earned some national recognition — in the lefty blogosphere, at least — for taking on Orly Taitz, a California lawyer and leading "birther" (those who claim that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore not eligible to be president).

What prompted you to go after Orly Taitz?

While lawyers have a wide range of latitude to advocate for their clients, they do not have professional license to just make things up. In a self-regulating profession, lawyers have a responsibility to report when other lawyers engage in conduct that reflects on fitness to practice law.

Here, Ms. Taitz has waived around demonstrably phony documents (the Republic of Kenya was the "Dominion" of Kenya on the date of the fake "Republic of Kenya" birth certificate she's been brandishing), ignored the state of Hawaii's own official statement that its records reflect the President was born in Hawaii and failed to explain how a Hawaii newspaper reported on President Obama's birth back at the time — did the wily conspiracy extend to the president's grandparents when he was infant?

Ms. Taitz also accused a (Bush-appointee) federal judge in Georgia of "treason" and corruption without any reasonable basis. She reportedly advocated positions contrary to her clients' direct instruction. And the federal judge sanctioned her for "frivolous" conduct. These are things for which we mere mortal lawyers normally face consequences.

As a native-born American myself (Oklahoma's pretty American, don't you think?), I think it is time to stop questioning our fellow Americans' citizenship credentials based on race, names or ethnicity. It's 2009, and Voinovich, Chandra and indeed "Taitz" are as American as names as "Allen," "Redfern," "Strickland," "Dann" or "Brown." We are not going to become the free-market meritocracy of a nation to which we profess to aspire until we make it unfashionable to suggest otherwise. By the time my third-generation-American sons are adults, I hope to have driven a few of the laps to run the tread out on those old tires.

Where you surprised at the attention you've received from it?

The disciplinary complaint hasn't received nearly as much attention as Ms. Taitz's antics, which reflects the media's propensity to report as "newsworthy" on page one any lunatic's pronouncements, but to bury on page three — if they report at all — the corrections.

After I filed the complaint, I learned that other lawyers have been also reporting to the bar Ms. Taitz's misconduct, and I received at least some positive feedback from Republicans, both of which give me some hope that the world has not completely lost its collective mind.

Any other right-wing professional liars on your to-do list?

Color within the lines and I won't feel a need to resort to karmic facilitation.

You also helped expose what Ken Blackwell was up to when he was Ohio secretary of state. Are you concerned about another Republican being elected to that office?

Only recently have secretary of states' offices and voting laws been politicized to the point that they have been used for voter suppression, as part of the general debasing of ethics in public life down to the credo "anything goes."

Republican candidate Jon Husted adopted the suppression techniques while House speaker. This included the Ohio law that other lawyers and I successfully challenged in federal court that permitted pollworkers to demand that naturalized American citizens who have been voting for years produce their certificates of naturalization at the polls before voting. The plaintiffs included longtime citizens, former Ohio First Lady Dagmar Celeste and immigration lawyer Margaret Wong. The judge — a George W. Bush appointee — said, "There is no such thing as a second-class citizen or a second-class American. Frankly, without naturalized citizens, there would be no America. It is shameful to imagine that this statute is an example of how the State of Ohio says 'thank you' to those who helped build this country."

Democrats' actions on these issues have not matched their rhetoric. While secretary of state Jennifer Brunner has mitigated the harm from some of these voter-suppression techniques, she and attorney general [Richard] Cordray continue to defend and embrace laws they called unconstitutional while campaigning.

Case in point: the federal lawsuit that other lawyers and I filed against secretary of state J. Kenneth Blackwell on behalf of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless regarding the state's voter-ID law and process for counting provisional ballots remains pending against Brunner as Blackwell's successor. Why? To our continuing shock and amazement, she refuses to settle it. She refused to even meet with Homeless Coalition officials to discuss it. She and then-attorney general [Marc] Dann filed statements in federal court in Columbus in the summer of 2007 essentially telling homeless folks to go pound salt and drop their lawsuit. Attorney general Cordray is appealing one loss in the case to the Sixth Circuit.

So poor folks who have no ID (e.g., driver's license, bank account in their name, utility bill) are still charged what amounts to a poll tax to obtain an ID, just as they were under Blackwell.

At least secretary Blackwell would negotiate with us. It is dismaying, but progressives are not paying attention, preferring to buy in to the myth that these politicians mean what they say.

And Democratic candidate Jennifer Garrison has had her own issues with gay-baiting, being extremely anti-choice and making racist remarks — not exactly the kind of person you want protecting minority-voting rights. Yet the Ohio Democratic Party seems ready to coronate her.

I regret to say that I don't have much faith that any of the politicians aspiring to the secretary of state's office today are profiles in either principle or courage.

Tell us about the recent action involving The Akron Beacon Journal.

We represent retirees in a federal class-action lawsuit against the

Journal and Canadian media mogul David Holmes Black, who assumed control over the Journal a few years ago. The suit alleges that the Journal and Mr. Black engaged in a "bait-and-switch."

The retirees are members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 14514. They had been guaranteed lifetime employment as part of their union contract. The Journal persuaded these retirees to take early retirement and give up their right to lifetime employment in exchange for low-cost prescription-drug and other health-care benefits the rest of their lives for them and their spouses. Then in 2006, the Journal reneged by replacing the low-cost coverage with high-cost plans, causing huge financial losses and leading, for many, to declining health. One retiree, for example, cannot afford the new $600/month cost for the debilitating arthritis he suffers. So he's in excruciating pain.

The Journal is a great paper, but if it gets away with this betrayal, no retiree's vested retirement benefits are safe. There is a preliminary-injunction hearing before U.S. District Judge David Dowd in Akron on October 26.

Are there any elected offices you might consider running for in the next few years?

Definitely not county commissioner or auditor, despite likely upcoming openings.

[email protected]

Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.