Group wants Ohio mayor labeled ‘vexatious litigator’ for suing adversaries

By Maggie Thurber | For Ohio Watchdog

Jeffrey Lansky, the mayor of Maple Heights, Ohio, has a reputation for suing people. He’s filed eight lawsuits since 1994 — all of them against political adversaries.

VEXATIOUS? An Ohio court has been asked to declare Maple Heights Mayor Jeffrey Lansky a “vexatious litigator” due to his “frivolous” lawsuits against political adversaries.

Now the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which is representing the defendants in his latest legal battle, is asking the Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court to declare Lansky a “vexatious litigator” for what they call his “pattern of frivolous litigation.”

Under Ohio Revised Code, a vexatious litigator is “any person who has habitually, persistently, and without reasonable grounds engaged in vexatious conduct in a civil action or actions.” It defines vexatious conduct as:

  • Conduct that obviously serves merely to harass or maliciously injure another party to the civil action.
  • Conduct that is not warranted under existing law and cannot be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.
  • Conduct that is imposed solely for delay.

Individuals who are declared vexatious litigators are prohibited from initiating or continuing legal action unless they receive prior approval of the court.

The 1851 Center is representing Bill and Lynde Brownlee in a defamation of character lawsuit. Lansky is asking for $25,000 in damages, claiming a post on their blog, Maple Heights News, which compared Lansky’s 2011 campaign literature to his accomplishments in office, contained “false and defamatory statements.”

Following receipt of a cease-and-desist letter, the blog post was corrected to clarify two points. The other items Lansky claimed were incorrect were statements of fact, Bill Brownlee said, and were left as is.

But even though the corrections were made, Lansky sued. He told Cleveland.com the corrections didn’t go far enough.

He said Brownlee’s correction is not good enough because the councilman should be held to a higher standard as an elected official. He also said not all the errors have been addressed. “He’s a bomb thrower,” Lansky said. “He’s very immature and pushes people’s buttons.”

This wasn’t the first time Lansky resorted to legal actions when he thought his character had been maligned.

Lansky, who served as a city councilman before being mayor, sued Leroy Peterson, a former state representative and councilman, for $1,050,000 in 1994. After numerous subpoenas, the case was dismissed in 1999 following a settlement between the two men. They agreed to split the costs in the case.

In 1995, Lansky sued Edward Light, Louis Russo, Daniel Birel and Peterson for $2 million. In 1996, he asked for the case to be dismissed. Two of the defendants asked to be awarded attorney fees based on Lansky’s “frivolous conduct.” The last on-line entry in the case states that a continuance was requested for the hearing on the motion for sanctions against Lansky.

In 2004, Lansky was back in court suing Leonard Rizzo, Anthony Liberatore Jr. and the Laborers International Union of North America Local 860. This time, he asked for $1 million.

Again, he voluntarily dismissed the case and was assessed the court costs, though it took a judgment against him in 2013 to collect all of the costs.

He sued the same parties again in 2005. The court ruled in favor of Rizzo, Liberatore and the union. Lansky appealed, but the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the case. In 2013, a judgment against Lansky was entered for court costs associated with the case.

Also in 2004, after losing an election, he sued his opponent, Michael Ciariavino. In 2005, he voluntarily dismissed the case and paid the court costs. As part of the decision, the court wrote “clearly, the evidence suggests a pattern of intimidation” in the way Lansky sues other political figures.

His next case was in 2012 against his latest mayoral opponent, Neomia Mitchell. Just prior to a settlement conference, Lansky dismissed the case and paid the court costs associated with it.

But then a few days later, he refiled against Mitchell, asking for $55,000. In November 2013, the court granted Mitchell a summary judgment, ruling:

“The Court, having considered all the evidence and having construed the evidence most strongly in favor of the non-moving party, determines that reasonable minds can come to but one conclusion, that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that Neomia Mitchell is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Specifically, there is no evidence of actual malice as required to prove claims of defamation.”

Again, court costs were assessed to Lansky.

Bill Brownlee said a pattern was clearly established and that he was warned Lansky tended to sue his detractors in an effort to quash their free speech.

“I was simply stating facts,” Brownlee said. “It’s not my fault if it made him look bad. But they said he’d sue over anything.”

He said the number of lawsuits pertaining to the city and the mayor concerned him.

“I’d heard many stories about the abuses of the legal system by people in the government,” he said. “We looked into it ,and we found there were a lot of lawsuits, including where the mayor had sued for libel and defamation of character.”

The counterclaim filed by the 1851 Center states the “true purpose” of the lawsuit is to “squelch public comment and discussion that is true but is potentially viewed as unflattering to Mayor Lansky.”

But the counterclaim doesn’t just go after Lansky. It also asks his attorney, Brent English, be sanctioned for filing the lawsuit “despite overwhelmingly clear precedent that defendants maintain a clear constitutional right to discuss Mr. Lansky’s record as mayor of Maple Heights,” and that this right “cannot be suppressed or chilled through state defamation actions or otherwise.”

It asks the court to declare that English violated Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure 11, through advancing legal filings without basis.

English represented Lansky on the other lawsuits as well.

Ohio Watchdog wanted to get Lansky’s opinion about the counterclaim, but he did not respond to a message left for him at his office.

English, when reached by telephone, declined to comment on the case and hung up.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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