(LFC Comments: Thanks to the patriots at Auburntownship.org for this remarkable article detailing the legal victories of Mr. Brian Ames, the amazing pro se litigant from Portage County. Ames is making history and case law.)
Brian M. Ames is a resident of Portage County and a member of its Republican Central Committee. Over the last several years he has demonstrated knowledge and courage in presenting legal challenges pro se to multiple governmental entities in Portage County, which have for one reason or another (your choice: ignorance or deliberate evasion) circumvented Ohio Revised Code. In the last three months he has received three opinions from the Eleventh District Court of Appeals: 2019-P-0015 and 2019-P-0016, both on September 16, 2019; and 2019-P-0017, on December 2, 2019. In addition, Mr. Ames has filed 2019-PA-00102, scheduled for oral arguments at the Eleventh District Court of Appeals in early 2020.
We hope that the individuals and governmental employees of Geauga, Lake, Summit, and Cuyahoga Counties, who frequent this column with regularity, will take the time to read this commentary and in the process avoid the experiences of Portage County officials who must answer for their own procedural foibles at Portage County taxpayer expense.
Mr. Ames has been attending and observing civil procedure in Portage County for a number of years while becoming an expert on Ohio Revised Code and a pro se practitioner. For those unfamiliar with the term pro se, it defines an individual who files legal actions in a court or courts of law representing himself in trial court.
This writer has known Mr. Ames for several years. We were filing court actions against unjust political subdivisions in Geauga County when we became aware of his actions, similar to our own, to “clean up” local government.
Mr. Ames has spent a great deal of time considering the Open Meetings Act (ORC 121.22) and the rights and privileges that this legislation affords citizens. In recent years the Ohio Attorney General has gone to great lengths to publish The Ohio Sunshine Laws, an Open Government Resource Manual to facilitate citizens’ ability to demand transparency, openness, and truth in government. This is a publication available to any Ohio resident simply by making the request to the Office of the Ohio Attorney General.
Both 2019-P-2015 [Ames 1] and 2019-P-2016 [Ames II] started out as mandamus actions in the Portage County Court of Common Pleas in 2017 to protest the methodology utilized by the Portage County Board of County Commissioners to convene executive session. Both cases resulted in a Portage County victory for Portage Commissioners even though Ames observed seventy-five violations of Ohio Reserved Code in 2019-P-2015 and forty-two violations in 2019-P-2016. Ames contested commissioners’ verbatim reading of the eight reasons for executive session without identifying the specific reason(s) permitting Portage Commissioners to call a non-public executive session.
ORC 121.22(G)(1) identifies the eight reasons or “exclusions” to call an executive session as “appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion, or compensation of a public employee or official, or the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual.” Instead of identifying the specific reasons that justified the convening of an executive session before engaging in the roll call to approve the session, the clerk would read all eight reasons verbatim so that the public would never quite know the real reason for the executive session.
In Paragraph 63, page 15 of Ames I, Judge Mary Jane Trapp, with Justices Thomas Wright and Timothy Cannon concurring, wrote, “Based on the plain language of the statute [ORC 121.22], and considering the above authorities, the trial court erred in holding that the Board [of Portage County Commissioners] stated an acceptable purpose under ORC 121.22(G)(1) by reading the entire list of permissible purposes verbatim. The statute mandates that the Board specifically state in its motions and votes the particular [emphasis added] permitted purpose or purposes that the Board reasonably intends to discuss during executive session.”
In Paragraph 64, Judge Trapp concluded, “Thus, the trial court erred by granting the Board [of Portage County Commissioners] motion for summary judgment with respect to the remaining counts of Mr. Ames’ complaint.”
In 2019-P-0016 [Ames II] Justice Trapp wrote at Paragraph 61 on page 14, “The issue before us is whether the trial court correctly interpreted ORC 121.22(G)(1) in determining the Board [of Portage County Commissioners] necessarily stated an acceptable purpose. . .by reading the entire list of permissible purposes prior to entering into executive session. We conclude it did not.”
Both cases are now remanded for re-trial in Portage County Common Pleas Court, where Mt. Ames asks for the following, as noted in Paragraph 9 on page 7 [Ames II]: judgment that the Board violated the Ohio Meetings Act, (2) a $500 civil forfeiture for each [emphasis added] violation, (3) an order to permanently enjoin the Board from violating the Ohio Meetings Act, (4) an order that the Board annotate the meeting minutes to reflect the approved purpose for each executive session, and (5) court costs and reasonable attorney fees” to Brian Ames, and 6) declaration that any and all actions resulting from executive sessions that violate ORC 121.22 are ruled invalid per ORC 121.22(H).
In the meantime, the same appellate judicial team reversed the judgment of the Portage County Common Pleas Court on December 2, 2019, and remanded the case back to the lower court. In this case, filed against the Brimfield Township Board of Trustees in Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case 2017CV 00491, and resolved as 2019-P-0017, the Eleventh District Court wrote in Paragraph 22 on page 9: “The narrow question is whether the phrase ‘general subject matter’; in the Ohio Meetings Act provision includes the purpose of entering into executive session. In other words, if the board enters into executive session, should the minutes reflect the specific reason they entered executive session? We answer that question in the affirmative. . .”
The Eleventh District Court continues in Paragraph 22: “In this case. . .there is no indication in the minutes that the Board [of Brimfield Township Trustees] complied with the law. There is no indication that the stated purpose for going into executive session is memorialized in any other form, such as a resolution incorporated into the minutes. By not including in the meeting minutes the proper statutory purpose for entering executive session, the public cannot determine whether it was for a proper purpose or whether any action related thereto is valid.[Emphasis added]”. . .
Finally, Brian Ames awaits Eleventh District judgment on 2019-P-00102, filed once again against the Portage County Board of Commissioners on November 18, 2019, this time noting that the Common Pleas Court again erred by granting an extension of time to that board after more than a 270 day period of inaction and while failing to grant Ames, the Relator, a fourteen-day period to respond.
We look forward to the further responses of the Eleventh District Court of Appeals in these most interesting and important Portage County legal cases. We remain very proud of Brian Ames for his understanding of Ohio Revised Code and his willingness and ability to pursue and achieve justice for all of us, not just the “good old boys” who manage to win local favor . . .whether or not they have legitimately earned that right.
We look forward to reporting more of the progress of Portage County’s Brian Ames. We trust that those entities who have not played fair and square will be learning the importance of not shortchanging the voting public.