By Kevin Kelley
Former Westlake city prosecutor Andrea Rocco is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections’ decision to end her candidacy for municipal law director.
Following a two-hour hearing Feb. 24, the election board voted 2-1 Friday to remove Andrea Rocco’s name from the ballot in Westlake’s race for law director.
Board Chairwoman Inajo Davis Chappell and member David J. Wondolowski said they agreed with protests filed by four Westlake residents stating Rocco did not meet the City Charter’s qualifications for the position. Specifically, the protests alleged Rocco had not been “engaged in the active practice of law in Ohio for a period of six (6) years next preceding his election,” as stated by the Charter.
Rocco’s service as Cuyahoga County’s clerk of courts in 2013-2014 did not meet the definition of “the active practice of law,” Chappell and Wondolowski ruled. Jeff Hastings was the lone dissenting vote; board member Rob Frost was absent from the meeting.
With Rocco’s name struck from the ballot, the lone candidate for law director is Michael P. Maloney, a trial attorney and Parma assistant law director.
Rocco’s appeal, filed with the Ohio Supreme Court Friday, argues her services as clerk of courts did constitute the active practice of law. The legal brief notes Rocco’s appointment came while the county government was in a period of transition under a new voter-approved County Charter, and thus her legal background was particularly beneficial.
“While virtually all other clerks of court in the state simply take over the responsibilities of their predecessor, [Rocco] essentially had to start from the ground up to determine the full scope of the legal responsibilities and role of her office and position,” the filing states.
An audit of the clerk’s office found numerous instances of noncompliance with the law, the brief noted: “For the remainder of her tenure as Clerk of the Courts, [Rocco] worked with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office and Law Department as well as the judiciary to draft and implement new rules and policies that would remedy these deficiencies, bring the office into legal compliance and improve the efficiency and transparency of the office.”
Rocco also argued she provided numerous other legal services as clerk, including conducting original legal research and drafting legal memos and policy handbooks on substantive areas of law.
“These tasks required [Rocco] to be able to identify, understand, analyze and shepardize provisions of the Ohio Revised Code, the Ohio Administrative Code, the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Ohio Rules of Superintendence to determine their requirements and applicability,” the filing stated.
The former Westlake City Schools Board of Education member also said she provided pro bono legal counsel to Cuyahoga County Crime Stoppers while she was court clerk.
Rocco is also arguing the City Charter requires a candidate for law director must have been engaged in the active practice of law for any six year period before the election, not the six years immediately before the election.
The appeal cites case law stating written qualifications for office must be given a liberal interpretation in favor of those seeking to hold office. “Courts must avoid unduly technical interpretations that impede the public’s ability to have the benefit of choice from all those who are in fact and in law qualified,” the appeal states.
Donald J. McTigue, Rocco’s attorney, is also asking the elections board to pay Rocco’s court and legal fees.
Christopher Corrigan, an attorney who resides in Westlake, was one of the four who filed the ballot protest against Rocco with the elections board. He obtained the services of attorney Roger M. Synenberg, who argued on his behalf during the Feb. 24 hearing.
Carol Corpus, Russ Ezolt and Mary Levtzow also filed protests against Rocco’s candidacy. Corpus and Levtzow have unsuccessfully run for seats on Westlake City Council. In 2015, Ezolt was a candidate for the Westlake City Schools Board of Education but then withdrew from the race before Election Day.