Cuyahoga County (OH) auditor’s attorney subpoenas 32 who sought review of the auditor’s office

Posted by John Caniglia
The Plain Dealer
August 19, 2009

Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo’s attorney has subpoenaed 32 people who signed a request for a citizens’ review of the auditor’s office and is seeking political and tax information about them.

Members of the group called the subpoenas harassment, an attempt to intimidate them into dropping their plan for a three-person panel that would examine Russo’s books. They are also upset their tax money is being used to pay the lawyer representing Russo’s office $195 an hour. They say Russo, a Democrat, has turned the request into a political donnybrook by attacking Republicans for starting the petition.

“It is uncalled for,” said Ronald Finnerty, a Garfield Heights Democrat, who signed the petition with his wife, Karen, also a Democrat. “Whoever heard of attacking a person for signing a petition?”

Russo’s attorney, John R. Climaco, said the group did not file a petition; it filed a judicial application for the appointment of the panel, a move that could interfere with the auditor’s day-to-day work, as well as hindering a state audit under way.

He wants to depose the group’s members next week and see any records about their communications with county Republican Party Chairman Rob Frost and state GOP officials about Russo or the application.

Climaco also has subpoenaed Ohio Auditor Mary Taylor, a Republican, to determine whether she knew about the filing of a judicial application for the appointment of a three-member panel.

Climaco is seeking the signers’ calendars and cell phone records for the past year. He is demanding their local, state and federal taxes for the last three years, too.

The subpoenas seek to determine whether the people who signed the application for the panel were county residents and taxpayers and whether they were put up to it by the GOP. Climaco called Frost’s filing in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court “a frivolous lawsuit filed for political reasons.”

“It’s unfortunate that they are upset, but they filed the lawsuit,” Climaco said. “They put themselves into the positions as applicants. . . . Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they assumed a serious responsibility.”

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason appointed Climaco to represent Russo. Under state law, if the citizens panel finds errors, it must make the findings available to Mason, creating a conflict for the prosecutor. Because of that, the county pays Climaco $195 an hour for his work. Climaco’s normal billing rate is $600 an hour.

Climaco called Frost and the signers irresponsible for attempting to use a century-old law to achieve political gain.

“We intend, on behalf of Cuyahoga County, to hold the applicants responsible for their actions, including any monetary damage that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars,” Climaco said.

In June, the bipartisan group signed a judicial application to have a citizens group review documents in Russo’s office amid a federal investigation into public corruption in Cuyahoga County…

The article continues at The Cleveland Plain Dealer

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