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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Removing officeholders is difficult, but there’s a simple solution

All of the procedures are convoluted, complicated and time-consuming.
davidbetras032020
Attorney David Betras

Because I’m both an attorney and a former Democratic Party chair, people often ask me questions about the law as it relates to politics. For example, someone recently asked me what they needed to do to impeach a county officeholder. I will not disclose who asked the question or the name of the official they want to run out of town on a rail, but I thought I would provide a short civics lesson on how to remove officeholders in Ohio.

Relax, there will not be a quiz at the end.

Ohio’s Constitution and Revised Code provide a number of ways to remove officeholders:

Impeachment

Under Article II, Sec. 24 of the Ohio Constitution, the governor, all state officeholders and judges are subject to impeachment and removal from office. The members of the House possess the sole power to impeach, and a two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to convict.

Expulsion

Under Article II, Sec. 6, members of the Ohio House and Senate may be expelled for disorderly conduct. Disorderly conduct means whatever the members say it means — for instance, selling a $1.6 billion bailout to FirstEnergy in exchange for $60 million in dark money campaign contributions. A two-thirds vote of the body in question is required to toss a rascal out.

Recall

Only officials of municipal corporations are subject to recall. To begin the process, a petition containing signatures equal to 15 percent of the votes cast in the most recent municipal election must be filed with the county Board of Elections. If enough valid signatures are filed, the official has five days to resign. If they do not, two questions are put before the voters at a special election: should the officeholder be removed and who, from a list of nominated candidates, shall replace them.

Removal via trial

Article II, Sec. 38 directed the General Assembly to enact laws providing for the prompt removal from office, upon complaint and hearing, of all officers, including the governor, members of the General Assembly, judges, municipal officers and county officials. The members came up with Ohio Revised Code Sections 3.07 through 3.10, which establishes a procedure for removing officials found guilty of misconduct in office, which includes, among other offenses, gross immorality, drunkenness, misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance.

Those seeking removal must file a complaint signed by the required number of qualified electors in the court of common pleas in which the alleged offender resides. In addition, the governor may file a complaint against a county prosecutor, sheriff or mayor of a municipal corporation. The removal proceedings are tried by a common pleas court judge, and the accused officeholder may request a jury trial. Nine votes are required to remove the accused, who may then appeal.

Special note: this understandably little-used procedure is the only way a county official may be removed from office.

Administrative process for removing judges

The Ohio Supreme Court may appoint a panel of five jurists to determine if a judge accused of misconduct should be removed or suspended.

All of these procedures are convoluted, complicated and time-consuming, which is why I suggest that we use an alternative method to keep incompetent or untrustworthy people out of office: do not vote for them in the first place.

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.

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