A lawsuit to avert a travesty

A lawsuit to avert a travesty

December 11th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Mayor Ron Littlefield's chances of defeating a recall effort mounted by a small fraction of city voters have always been good. A range of legal issues clearly seem to disqualify the recall initiative. There are too many apparent legal flaws in the petitions themselves; the number of legally verifiable voter signatures on them is hugely inadequate; and the city's vague recall code does not legally comply with established state laws governing recalls.

The question at the moment, however, is whether the mayor will have his day in court to argue the legal merits of his challenge to the recall, or whether partisan politics and a legal travesty will let the recall effort by a handful of tea party-style opponents go forward.

Local partisan politics on the Hamilton County Election Commission appears to be against the mayor. The controlling Republicans on the five-member panel wrongly and blatantly ignored the flaws in the recall petitions, compelling Littlefield to take his case to Circuit Court. There, Judge Jeff Hollingsworth strongly affirmed his view that the recall effort failed on multiple legal points.

A wrong-headed commission

Recallers challenged that ruling, and an appeals court divined a procedural point -- one which neither side had argued -- on which to vacate it. Then the Election Commission's Republicans struck again in their favor, ignoring legal standards governing appeals and prematurely fixing a date for a recall election next August before Littlefield's pending appeal of the strange appeals court decision was heard. The commission's schedule now calls for the Election Commission to begin issuing qualifying petitions to potential candidates on Jan. 6, just four weeks away.

Political currents in the state Legislature also appear to have worked against the mayor. There's good reason to believe that the appeals court panel that nullified the Circuit Court ruling did so to avoid ruffling tea-party-leaning legislators who are vocally demanding a change in the way state appeals court judges are elected.

The state's appellate judges currently enjoy a widely applauded retention election system, which lets them stand for re-election without opposition on a yes-no retention election. Right-wing lawmakers want to end retention elections and force appellate court judges to run in competitive elections, which would make them slaves to big money politics and commercial lobbyists' causes.

The appeals court ruling that effectively nullified Judge Hollingsworth's opinion stopping the recall said simply that his ruling was premature because the Election Commission had not, at the time, actually certified the recall petition -- never mind that certification would whitewash the petition's legal flaws.

In any case, the Election Commission should have waited on a ruling of Littlefield's appeal of that decision before deciding whether to certify the recall, but it did not, and wrongly moved again in support of recall. Had the court refused to reconsider its decision the statutory legal process would have sent the case back to Circuit Court as if no appeal had ever been filed.

Since the commission rushed to certify the recall petition(s) and schedule an election, Littlefield has no alternative but to go back to Circuit Court.

Mayor must move quickly

He should quickly refile his case and seek an injunction of the scheduled election process. Allowing it to go forward would be a travesty of justice. Judge Hollingsworth found that barely 4,000 voter signatures, out of approximately 9,000 submitted, were properly signed and documented. That's not even a third of the 15,000 affirmed signatures that would be needed under state law to start a recall election process. Even that number pales against the number -- 102,000 -- of registered city voters.

Failed recall petitioners should not now get to demand a recall vote, never mind that just 18,000 voters bothered to vote in the last mayoral election when Littlefield had no serious competition. Indeed, a recall should be reserved only for cases of malfeasance or moral turpitude. It should not be allowed or invoked over dissatisfaction with a tax increase, the first in eight years, that was needed to maintain vital city services.

A misguided recall

Recall leader Jim Folkner said the other day that if Littlefield "goes back to court, he's not suing us. He's suing the people ... the government."

That's malarkey. Littlefield's lawsuit, if he chooses to pursue his case, would effectively uphold his election by a majority of voters in the last city election. More importantly, it would prevent the damaging prospect of a tail-wagging-the-dog upset of orderly city government that an obstreperous, minority faction of city voters would wreak on the community at a critically important time in the city's economic development.

Littlefield needs to go back to court. Such a small number of the city's voters -- especially with all the holes that a judge found in their inconsistent petitions -- should not get to nullify his election.