COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – An attorney for Gov. John Kasich’s embattled job creation agency is taking advantage of infighting among opponent lawyers to call the legal basis of their constitutional challenge into question.
JobsOhio attorney Aneca Lasley said in a state Supreme Court filing this week that arguments made by a lawyer ousted from the case by ProgressOhio show “a pattern of disregard for settled law and procedure.”
Lasley was referring to complaints filed by former ProgressOhio lawyer Victoria Ullmann seeking a restored lead role in the case.
Ullmann questions the liberal group’s decision to align with the conservative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and to make its director, Maurice Thompson, the lead lawyer. She has alleged that the two politically opposed think tanks have formed a suspicious alliance that may be designed to undermine the lawsuit’s chances.
In a filing Monday, Lasley said Ullmann’s allegations are “based on the same wild and conspiratorial factual speculation that underlies this entire lawsuit. (The ProgressOhio legal team) brought this case alleging a combination of superficial and meritless constitutional claims for the purpose of derailing legislation with which they politically disagree.”
ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg has said his intention in requesting to switch lawyers in the case and allow the 1851 Center’s director to take the lead was to reflect how broad-based political interest is in the case.
In a letter terminating their relationship, Rothenberg refers to “tactical differences” Ullmann had with ProgressOhio on how to proceed with the lawsuit.
The lawsuit originally was filed by ProgressOhio and two Democratic state lawmakers, Michael Skindell and Dennis Murray. They argued that JobsOhio, a private nonprofit created under Kasich, violates Ohio’s Constitution by putting public funds in the hands of a private corporation.
The courts are yet to rule on that core question amid a host of legal side issues, including which party, if any, has standing to sue JobsOhio.
Last month, JobsOhio complied under protest with an order from state Auditor Dave Yost to turn over its private financial records. It simultaneously returned two pools of taxpayer money it had controlled, using proceeds from a bond sale backed by proceeds from the state’s liquor business.
The move may have been intended to shield JobsOhio from further government scrutiny and erase constitutional questions raised in the lawsuit by making JobsOhio purely private rather than semi-private. Ohio law dictates JobsOhio must continue to disclose certain information to the public.
Ullmann told justices she was the one who initiated and built the 2-year-old constitutional challenge to JobsOhio yet Thompson treated her as if she were “invisible.”
She asks that the court uncouple ProgressOhio and the 1851 Center from the lawsuit and raises a series of ethical claims against Thompson.
She has argued ProgressOhio has become “a detriment to the case” and the center has “overwhelming conflicts of interest,” including the fact Thompson is accountable to a board of directors and to “potentially adverse donors.”
ProgressOhio has asked justices to strike Ullmann’s filings from the record. New attorneys for ProgressOhio acknowledged an obvious disagreement between Ullmann and her former client but said the JobsOhio appeal docket was “not the forum for her to take up the matter.”
Ullmann countered in a follow-up filing that she wished “the devious, improper and unethical acts” of the 1851 Center hadn’t made her unusual actions necessary.
“Just as JobsOhio as an entity would attract corruption, this litigation has as well,” Ullmann told justices. “As Auditor Yost recently observed in discussing JobsOhio, ‘What about … when the guy who is not acting in good faith sneaks his way into the tent?’”
Lasley, in her filing, asked justices to put an end to the bickering.
“Enough is enough,” she wrote. “The rules of standing, procedure, and evidence do not cease to apply to this lawsuit merely because they pose obstacles to the personal interests that continue to drive it forward.”
Thompson has said the center’s board supports his involvement in the case. He said the issue of who has standing in a constitutional case is “a neutral political principle where the left and the right can agree.”
He said there is no conspiracy to undermine the litigation.
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