Article by Michael Earl Patton.
I need a lawyer, not because I did anything wrong, but apparently because I am in the cross-hairs of the city. I will explain the “crime,” such as it exists in the eyes of the city, below.
I am the secretary of the board of trustees of the Community Land Co-operative of Cincinnati (CLCC), a non-profit housing organization that works predominately in the West End. I do this as a volunteer, and have served in different capacities for years with this organization, and always as a volunteer. I have never received any pay for this work.
Some years ago the city found lead paint in one of our houses. As I understand it, a few years later they got around to notifying us. The executive director at the time informed the board then. He did tell us he was working on the problem. The board eventually asked that executive director to resign due to performance problems.
The board hired a new executive director. We applied for a grant from the city to remediate the lead paint. To our surprise, the city then took us to court, saying that the paint had not been remediated. The CLCC hired an attorney, who talked with the court. He said that the CLCC could enter into a diversion program and avoid fines if we would admit to the violation. No jail would be possible since we were an organization. Since I was secretary, I said that I would sign a statement admitting the violation for the CLCC. He emphasized that this was for the CLCC, not me personally.
I signed, it was admitted into court. Nothing about pleading guilty or anything like that—just if I was authorized to sign. The CLCC lawyer left, saying that someone would come out later and meet me with the paperwork.
As I left, a man introduced himself as being with the city and said that the CLCC would not be getting the grant this year or the year after that, and probably not the year after that either. Therefore he was putting me on notice that I personally had to make certain the paint was remediated, and if the CLCC had no money then I had to spend my own personal funds. I said that someone from the CLCC would call him to discuss and he said that under no circumstances would he talk to anyone but me now that I had signed that paper.
Eventually, a woman did come out with some paperwork which said that I personally was now enrolled in the diversion program. I said no, the CLCC was. She said no, that they did it this way so that they could “control” me, and that the paperwork that I personally—not the CLCC—had admitted guilt. She said that I would have to make regular court appearances to detail progress that I had made regarding the lead paint. If I didn’t, I personally would have to face the consequences. It was not the CLCC anymore, it was me. It was clear that she was talking about jail, as I have seen how the city and court handles lead paint issues. The city and court constantly threated 6 months in jail at everyone the city brings before the housing court.
I asked for a copy of that paperwork and she said I would have to get it from the lawyer. I said that was the lawyer for the CLCC, not me, and she said that she would refuse to talk to anyone else, including any other lawyer that I might ask to call her.
I, of course, was furious. I immediately tried calling the lawyer but he never would return my calls. A lawyer friend of mine did some checking on line and could find nothing. The CLCC did eventally get a hold of their lawyer and he said that he would take care of it. The executive director, Lisa Carter, said that she had talked to him and and that it was straightened out, that her name would be on the document and not mine. She said that she had even managed to verify this with the court, though she said this was a huge problem getting them to talk to her.
Today, months later, and much to my surprise, someone left me a message on my answering maching and said that I was being “terminated” from the diversion program and that and that I had to be in court on the 10th at 1:20 and to bring my lawyer. Due to the overall hostile attitude previously (such as refusing to talk to me or to any personal attorney of mine), I take this to mean potential trouble for me.
As you know, I have often made my voice heard. This includes opposing the big new jail and the ill-conceived streetcar. It means opposing the huge corporate hand-outs to the favored, especially including 3CDC. It means opposing selective property tax abatements, again for the favored. It means accurately predicting that the 2010 census population would be below 300,000. It also includes when a housing inspector from the city demanded a bribe or he would have a house condemned that the CLCC owned. (That house, by the way, was very near this other house with the lead paint.) We refused to pay the bribe and I did complain to city council, who of course did nothing. The house was structurally sound, and the inspector refused to discuss any actual issues unless we FIRST “satisfied” him. The CLCC lost the house—we sold if for almost nothing since the city did condemn it and we never did pay him off.
I need a lawyer. A lawyer who will be heard.