A needless legal entanglement

A needless legal entanglement

March 11th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The three Republicans who control the five-member Hamilton County Election Commission apparently cannot accept that they made grievous errors in their acceptance of the flawed recall petitions filed by the groups that have tried for more than two years to oust Mayor Ron Littlefield. With barely a year remaining in Littlefield's tenure, why else would they vote to join the petitioners' appeal of the last court decision that canceled the commission's decision to fix a recall election in August? Surely, the GOP members would not frivolously vote, by a partisan 3-2 margin, to blow the hole in their legal budget even wider.

They've already spent $5,000 over their $25,000 legal budget for the year. Most of that money has gone to their attorney, Chris Clem, who curiously expanded the last stage of the legal battle by challenging the state attorney to defend the constitutionality of the state's recall statute, which controls municipal recall standards. There's no need to spend more taxpayer money to perpetuate the recallers' failed initiative: that question has now been answered.

The legal battle began in 2010, when Mayor Littlefield challenged the legality of the recall petitions, and defeated the recall initiative in court. After the recallers' appealed that ruling, it was overturned on the grounds that it was simply premature. The appeals court ruled the trial court had enjoined the Election Commission from accepting the flawed petitions before the commission had actually voted to certify them and put a recall election on the electoral calendar.

When the case was returned to the Election Commission, the controlling Republicans immediately proceeded to certify the petitions and schedule a recall election, never mind the flaws the trial court noted.

The mayor then reasonably refiled his original lawsuit against the petitions, and Circuit Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled, again, that the petitions were still faulty for the same reasons as he had ruled before: They didn't meet state recall standards; there weren't enough signatures to meet state standards; many signatures weren't properly dated; and the city had never properly enacted its own, less strenuous municipal recall ordinance.

The state attorney general's office, moreover, vigorously asserted the constitutionality of the state's recall petition in a 29-page opinion, and the trial court accepted the state's position.

At this stage, the recallers have little chance either to win another appeal, or to get a decision in their favor soon enough to put it on the last general county election date before the mayor's term expires. So it seems a complete waste of time, energy and legal costs for the Republican commissioners to again join the recallers' appeal questioning the validity of Judge Hollingsworth's last ruling. Their itch to do so suggests inappropriate partisan bias in favor of the recall.

The best strategy for the Election Commission would be a simple response to the lawsuit asking the court to assert the legal standards that it should respect. That would save taxpayers' money for the commission's legal budget, affirm the recall standards, and, most importantly, ensure the appearance of the commission's neutrality in electoral issues.