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Law School Case Brief

State ex rel. Rocco v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Elections - 2017-Ohio-4466, 151 Ohio St. 3d 306, 88 N.E.3d 924

Rule:

With respect to elections, to obtain a writ of mandamus, a relator must demonstrate a clear legal right to the relief requested, a clear legal duty on the part of the board of elections to perform an act, and the lack of an adequate remedy at law. To establish the requisite legal right and legal duty, a relator must prove that the board of elections engaged in fraud, corruption, abuse of discretion, or clear disregard of statutes or other pertinent law. 

Facts:

In January 2017, relator Andrea Rocco filed nominating petitions and statements of candidacy to run for the position of Westlake Director of Law. Four protests were subsequently filed against her candidacy, contending that she did not meet requirements to hold the position of director of law. The protests alleged that the city charter required the director of law to have been actively practicing law during the six years immediately preceding election to the office. Prior to seeking office, Rocco served for two years as the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts, between March 2013 and January 2015. The protests contended that Rocco's service as clerk of courts did not qualify as the active practice of law. Rocco argued that the charter required a candidate merely to have actively practiced law for any six-year period prior to assuming office, and she noted that she has more than six years of continuous legal experience, including six years as an Ohio assistant attorney general, 20 months as a Lake County assistant prosecutor, and two years in private practice. Respondent Cuyahoga County Board of Elections conducted a hearing on the protests on February 24, 2017 and, at the conclusion of the hearing, it voted to sustain the protests. On March 3, 2017, Rocco filed an original action for a writ of mandamus to compel the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to issue a certificate of nomination and to certify her name for placement upon the November 7, 2017 ballot as a candidate for the city of Westlake's director of law.

Issue:

Should the writ of mandamus be issued?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court held that Rocco was entitled to a writ of mandamus compelling the board of elections to issue a certificate of nomination and to certify her name for placement on the ballot as a candidate for the city's director of law. According to the court, Article IV, Section 4 of the Westlake City Charter, which stated that the city's director of law shall have been "engaged in the active practice of law in Ohio for a period of six (6) years next preceding his election," required the director of law to have been engaged in the active practice of law for any period of six years preceding election. The court ruled that Rocco was able to comply with this requirement because she had been practicing law in Ohio during any period of six years next preceding her election. Therefore, the court concluded that the board abused its discretion by sustaining protests to her candidacy.

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