State ex rel. Walker v. LaRose

Decision Date17 March 2021
Docket NumberNo. 2021-0264,2021-0264
Parties The STATE EX REL. WALKER et al. v. LAROSE, Secy., et al.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Walker & Jocke Co., L.P.A., Patricia A. Walker, and Ralph E. Jocke, Medina, for relators.

Dave Yost, Attorney General, and Heather L. Buchanan and Caitlyn Nestleroth Johnson, Assistant Attorneys General, for respondent Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews, Tonya J. Rogers, James F. Mathews, and Gregory A. Beck ; North Canton, and Gregory A. Huber, Medina, Medina Law Director, for respondent city of Medina.

S. Forrest Thompson, Medina County Prosecuting Attorney, and Michael K. Lyons and Samuel A. Sheffield, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for respondent Medina County Board of Elections.

Per Curiam.

{¶ 1} In this expedited election case, relators, Patricia A. Walker and Ralph E. Jocke, seek a writ of mandamus compelling respondents, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the Medina County Board of Elections (the "board"), and the city of Medina (the "city"), to change the ballot language of a local issue on the May 4, 2021 primary-election ballot. Alternatively, relators seek a writ of mandamus ordering respondents to strike the issue from the ballot entirely.

{¶ 2} We deny the writ. Neither the secretary of state nor the city is a proper respondent for the relief relators seek. And the board did not abuse its discretion or disregard applicable law in approving the ballot language challenged by relators.

I. Background

{¶ 3} This case arises out of the city's efforts to move the Medina Municipal Court to the Medina County courthouse building and citizen opposition to those efforts.

{¶ 4} The Medina County courthouse consists of an original building constructed in 1841, several additions constructed starting in 1873, and an expansion constructed in 1969. In 2019, the city passed an ordinance authorizing city funds to be used for a joint courthouse project with Medina County. The city and county had agreed to design, plan, and build a courthouse that would house the Medina Municipal Court and the Medina County Court of Common Pleas.

{¶ 5} Walker states in her affidavit that she formed the Save Your Courthouse Committee (the "committee") in 2019 due to residents’ concerns that the joint courthouse project would demolish part of the 1841 courthouse structure and all of the 1969 portion. Relators further contend that many of the city's residents have urged the city to expand the Medina Municipal Court at its present location instead of moving it to the Medina County courthouse.

{¶ 6} After the committee unsuccessfully sought to place a courthouse initiative on the November 2019 election ballot, see State ex rel. Save Your Courthouse Commt. v. Medina , 157 Ohio St.3d 423, 2019-Ohio-3737, 137 N.E.3d 1118, relators and the committee successfully placed a nearly identical initiative on the November 3, 2020 ballot. The initiative submitted to the city's electors stated:

Without a majority vote of the qualified electors who are residents of the City of Medina, Ohio, ("the City"), the City shall not:
1) authorize, appropriate or spend any funds for, or
2) use any city resources to carry out, or facilitate carrying out, any demolition or construction activity (whether internal or external) at the Medina County Courthouse or any structure located on the east side of the Medina Public Square including, but not limited to, 72 through 99 Public Square, Medina, Ohio.
This restriction shall have the effect of law and shall be effective for a period of five (5) years.

The initiative (sometimes referred to as "Issue 7") passed with 62 percent of the vote.

{¶ 7} Despite the passage of the initiative, the city moved forward with the courthouse project. On December 30, 2020, the Medina City Council held a special meeting to consider Ordinance No. 222-20, which proposed for submission to the city's electors a request to approve relocation of the municipal court to the 1969 courthouse. The issue approved by the city council stated:

The City of Medina, Ohio, is authorized to appropriate and expend funds and use city resources to locate the Medina Municipal Court inside of the Medina County 1969 courthouse located at 93 Public Square so as to preserve the 1969 courthouse as a court building located on the east side of Medina Public Square.

The city council passed Ordinance No. 222-20 at the December 30 special meeting. The ordinance also provided that the issue would be submitted to city electors at a

special election, appearing on the May 4, 2021 primary-election ballot.

{¶ 8} The city filed Ordinance No. 222-20 with the board on January 26, 2021, requesting placement on the May 4 ballot. The board prepared ballot language for the proposed ordinance and transmitted the ballot language to the secretary of state's office on February 3 for approval under R.C. 3501.05(J). The secretary's office approved the ballot language on February 17. The language reads:

Proposed Ordinance
City of Medina
Ordinance No. 222-20
A majority affirmative vote is necessary for passage.
Shall the City of Medina, Ohio, be authorized to appropriate and expend funds and use city resources to locate the Medina Municipal Court inside of the Medina County 1969 courthouse located at 93 Public Square so as to preserve the 1969 courthouse as a court building on the east side of Medina Public Square?

(Boldface sic.)

{¶ 9} Prior to the secretary of state's approval of the ballot language, relators filed a letter with the board on February 12, stating their position that Ordinance No. 222-20 required more than a majority affirmative vote for passage at the May 4 election. Relying on the language of the courthouse initiative passed in November, relators contended that the ordinance required "a majority vote of all of the people who live in Medina City and who are qualified to vote in the [May 4, 2021] Primary in order to pass." Relators presented the same argument at a board meeting on February 16. After the board declined to change the language relating to the number of votes required for passage of Ordinance No. 222-20, relators filed a protest with the board on February 19, reiterating their objection to the language approved for the ballot. In their protest, relators proposed that the following language be approved:

The City of Medina, Ohio is authorized to appropriate and expend funds and use City resources to locate the Medina Municipal Court inside of the Medina County 1969 Courthouse located at 93 Public Square. This partially overrules Issue 7 that was passed on November 3, 2020. A majority of the qualified electors who are residents of the City of Medina, Ohio is necessary for passage.

The board sent relators’ protest to the secretary of state but took no other action on it. The language for Ordinance No. 222-20 on the May 4 election ballot remains the same as that approved by the board on February 3 and the secretary on February 17.

{¶ 10} Relators filed this action on February 26, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel respondents to amend the ballot language for Ordinance No. 222-20 as relators requested. Relators argue that (1) the approved ballot language inaccurately states that only a majority affirmative vote is required for passage and (2) the ballot language should be amended as they request because the approved language is unlawfully persuasive and contains no title for the proposed ordinance. In the alternative, relators request a writ of mandamus directing respondents to remove Ordinance

No. 222-20 from the May 4 ballot because the ballot measure did not include a title when it was filed with the board. We set an expedited schedule for respondents to answer and for the parties to file their evidence and briefs. 161 Ohio St.3d 1448, 2021-Ohio-555, 163 N.E.3d 578. The parties have submitted their evidence and have fully briefed this matter for our decision.

II. Analysis

{¶ 11} To be entitled to a writ of mandamus, relators must establish by clear and convincing evidence that (1) they have a clear legal right to the requested relief, (2) respondents have a clear legal duty to provide it, and (3) relators do not have an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. State ex rel. Linnabary v. Husted , 138 Ohio St.3d 535, 2014-Ohio-1417, 8 N.E.3d 940, ¶ 13. Because of the proximity of the May 4 election, relators lack an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. State ex rel. Voters First v. Ohio Ballot Bd. , 133 Ohio St.3d 257, 2012-Ohio-4149, 978 N.E.2d 119, ¶ 22.

{¶ 12} For the remaining requirements of a clear legal right and a clear legal duty, in the absence of any evidence of fraud or corruption, the dispositive issue is whether respondents abused their discretion or clearly disregarded applicable law in adopting the ballot language at issue and in allowing the ordinance to be submitted to the Medina electors. See id. at ¶ 23. Relators do not allege fraud or corruption in this case.

A. Mandamus Claims Against the Secretary of State

{¶ 13} In neither their complaint nor their merit brief do relators cite a statute imposing a duty on the secretary of state to amend ballot language for a local issue or to strike such an issue from the ballot entirely. Though the secretary acknowledges that R.C. 3501.05(J) directs him to "give final approval to ballot language for any local question or issue approved and transmitted by boards of elections," he argues that his only role for local issues under R.C. 3501.05(J) is to review and approve ballot language as to form. See State ex rel. Perry Twp. Bd. of Trustees v. Husted , 154 Ohio St.3d 174, 2018-Ohio-3830, 112 N.E.3d 889, ¶ 15. The secretary complied with that duty in this case, and relators do not argue that R.C. 3501.05(J) imposes any further duty upon the secretary to review Ordinance No. 222-20 for content. Accordingly, relators’ requested relief against the secretary is not warranted. See State ex rel....

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT