A state appeals court decision this week nullified an earlier trial court ruling that had effectively blocked a recall petition against Mayor Ron Littlefield last year before the Election Commission had acted on it. But contrary to the hopes of those who mounted the recall drive, it's premature to assume that the latest twist in the anti-Littlefield initiative will end in an election for a new mayor. In fact, the ruling appears to address just a procedural issue.
Appellate Court Judge John McClarty, in writing the opinion for a three-judge appeals panel, found that the trial court judge, Circuit Judge Jeff Hollingsworth, intervened in the case "without jurisdiction," that is, before the Hamilton County Election Commission had certified the recall petitions presented by several groups. Judge McClarty essentially said the commission must first certify the petitions before they are subject to a legal contest.
Spokesmen for both sides have different views of the ruling. Littlefield's spokesman, Richard Beeland, claimed that it means only that the Election Commission "was entitled to make a final decision" on the petitions before they could be contested by Littlefield. Jim Folkner, a recall leader, said he believed the appeals court ruling means the Election Commission would have to certify the petitions and set a recall election. His lawyer, Frank Pinchak, said he thought the recall would go forward and end in an election.
Beeland's view, like that of Hal North, Littlefield's lawyer, seems more plausible. It now seems appropriate for the Election Commission to plow through the petitions and signatures to confirm whether they meet recall codes, and then make a decision on their next step. If the commission approves the petitions for election of a new mayor, Littlefield's lawsuit could again be entered. North's petition before Hollingsworth's court last year cited significant discrepancies with legal standards in the various recall petitions. Whatever the commission's decision, a new lawsuit seems certain. The more pertinent question now is whether the case can be resolved soon enough to matter.