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Attorneys ask court to dismiss Kovoor lawsuit

An attorney for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose asked the state’s highest court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Sarah Thomas Kovoor and the Trumbull County Republican Party to compel him to certify her as a judicial candidate to the Nov. 8 ballot — saying the legal request is premature.

“LaRose denies that this court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over this action and that (Kovoor and the Trumbull GOP) are entitled to a writ of mandamus,” Julie Pfeiffer, an assistant attorney general representing LaRose, wrote in a Monday filing. “To the contrary, this action is not justiciable because the claims against Secretary LaRose are not ripe for review.”

William Danso, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor who represents the elections board, also filed a Monday response to the lawsuit stating, “This matter is not yet ripe for review and thus this court is without subject matter jurisdiction.”

Kovoor and the Trumbull Republican Party’s central committee last Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the elections board to compel it to submit immediately position papers to LaRose on Kovoor’s eligibility and for LaRose to “render his decision immediately, prior to receiving position statements from the board of elections.”

The elections board filed those position statements Friday.

Kovoor and the central committee also asked the court to compel the elections board and LaRose to put her name on the ballot should the secretary of state decide not to certify her.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor issued a schedule Thursday for filing briefs and other responses in the case with Sept. 8 as the deadline to submit the last document.

The elections board on Aug. 19 voted 2-2 on Kovoor’s eligibility to be on the ballot as a Republican for a vacant common pleas court judicial seat. The two Democratic board members voted against her eligibility with the county prosecutor’s office issuing a legal opinion that a no vote was correct, while the two Republicans voted to certify her candidacy.

The issue is Kovoor of Howland lost the May 2 Republican primary for an 11th District Court of Appeals seat and was then appointed Aug. 14 by the Trumbull Republican Party’s central committee as its nominee for the common pleas seat that was vacated July 31 by Democrat Peter J. Kontos.

Ohio Revised Code Section 3513.04 states: “No person who seeks party nomination for an office or position at a primary election by declaration of candidacy … shall be permitted to become a candidate by nominating petition … by declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate or by filling a vacancy under section 3531.31 of the Revised Code at the following general election for any office.”

The only exceptions are for boards of education, the governing board of an educational service center or township trustee.

Mark Alberini, elections board chairman and head of the Trumbull Democratic Party, and Diana Marchese, the other Democratic board member, said the law must be followed.

Their position statement reads: “The principle of ballot access cannot and should not usurp the law. In Ms. Kovoor’s situation, there is clear statutory language, binding caselaw and a well-reasoned legal opinion — this cannot and should not be ignored.”

Ron Knight and Arno Hill, the Republican election board members who voted to certify Kovoor, asked LaRose to reconsider the law because Kovoor was appointed by the Republican central committee and when she ran for the court of appeals seat in May, Kontos’ seat wasn’t vacant.

In its Friday filing with LaRose, the two Republicans wrote: “We understand this law was created as a ‘sore loser’ to stop candidates from hopping from seat to seat, however, we believe with a NEW seat opening up after the primary and the Trumbull GOP nominating Sarah Thomas Kovoor, a second look at this is warranted. We also feel our position is to keep qualified candidates on the ballot, to try to remove them.”

In the Monday response on behalf of LaRose, a Republican, Pfeiffer wrote Kovoor and the Trumbull GOP want the elections board to submit the tie vote to the secretary of state’s office. Arguments to break the tie were sent Friday by the board to LaRose.

Pfeiffer wrote because Kovoor and the local Republican Party “fail to allege that the Trumbull County Board of Elections has submitted the tie vote the secretary of state and that the secretary has filed to timely exercise his discretion to break the tie vote, the complaint is not ripe for adjudication and should be dismissed.”

In a Monday response on behalf of the board of election members and Stephanie Penrose, Danso also argued by submitting position letters to LaRose’s office, “there is technically no position for it or its director to defend. However, the board of elections and Director Penrose understand that they may be subject to future administrative orders issued by (LaRose) and orders of this court.”

It added: “This matter is not yet ripe for review and thus this court is without subject matter jurisdiction.”

The Nov. 8 election is to fill Kontos’ term, which ends Dec. 31, 2026.

Cynthia Westcott Rice of Brookfield, a sitting 11th District Court of Appeals judge, is the Democratic Party’s nominee.

If Kovoor is ruled ineligible, Rice would run unopposed for the seat in the Nov. 8 election.

Friday was the write-in deadline, and no one filed.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, can choose a temporary judge for the seat to hold the position until the general election results are certified. Trumbull Republicans submitted three names, including Kovoor, for consideration for that appointment.

Kovoor filed a case last Wednesday against the elections board in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court saying it conducted public business outside an open meeting when Penrose called board members requesting a legal opinion on Kovoor’s eligibility.

Penrose since has acknowledged Danso asked for the board to authorize the opinion and she spoke to all but Marchese, who gave her the go-ahead to get it.

“If my prosecutor asks me, I assume it would be fine,” she said. “I followed the lead of my prosecutor.

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