Ronald James, a tenant who lives near Shaker Square, gives a tour of the property to Cleveland building inspectors in November 2022.
Ronald James, a tenant who lives near Shaker Square, gives a tour of the property to Cleveland building inspectors in November 2022. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

A Shaker Square landlord sued by the City of Cleveland wants Housing Court Judge W. Moná Scott kicked off the case.

In a legal filing, an attorney for the landlord wrote that remarks Scott made in a TV interview and an unrelated court hearing are evidence of bias against his client. In the hearing, Scott accused a pair of Shaker Square landlords – both based in New York City – of having “incestuous” business connections with one another. 

“They’re intertwined. All of it is intertwined. It’s incestuous,” Scott said of the landlords, according to a transcript of the hearing. She later added: “These clients out of New York, they are not the first ones I’ve dealt with.” 

The landlord being sued by the city, Shaker Heights Apartments Owner LLC, asked the Ohio Supreme Court on Aug. 22 to disqualify Scott from the case. 

“Judge Scott has made it clear she will not give all parties in the matter a fair and impartial trial,” attorney Grant J. Keating, who represents the landlord, wrote in the filing. “Allowing her to hear the matter might reasonably cause defendants and the public to question the fairness of the proceedings.”

Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy has given Scott until the beginning of October to respond. Until Kennedy makes a decision, Scott will be sidelined from the case, according to a Sept. 12 Supreme Court journal entry

Reached by phone Thursday, a housing court representative said Scott was out of the office and suggested calling back next week. 

Judge alleges LLC landlords are ‘intertwined’

The apartments at the heart of Cleveland’s lawsuit – located at 12701 and 12500-12600 Shaker Boulevard – have been the subject of tenant complaints for months. The city took the landlord to court in March, asking Scott to turn the property over to a receiver who could make repairs to the buildings. 

But it was in a different Shaker Square housing case that Scott made the comments now at issue. In that case, a landlord named Moreland Ohio LLC was responding to a housing code violation at a property on South Moreland Boulevard.

In a November 2022 pretrial hearing, Scott said that Moreland Ohio and other LLCs were “intertwined” with Shaker Heights Apartments Owner. An attorney for Moreland Ohio denied that claim in court. 

Although Moreland Ohio is connected to a similarly-named landlord at 12700 Shaker Boulevard called Shaker One LLC, it is not affiliated with Shaker Heights Apartments Owner next door, he said. 

Scott told the Moreland Ohio attorney that he would have to file a brief with the court proving that his client had no connection to Shaker Heights Apartments Owner. The judge said she was not obligated to prove her claim, but that the attorney would have to disprove it. 

“You can’t stand here before the court and tell me – because one thing I am is, I’m gifted,” Scott said, according to the transcript. “I used to be a City of Cleveland prosecutor. I used to be a Cuyahoga County prosecutor, worked in the general felony unit, worked in foreclosure unit. One thing that I’m gifted with is, I read and remember. I remember all names.” 

Landlords ‘out of New York’ criticized

According to a federal court filing by Shaker Heights Apartments Owner, the company’s ultimate owners are real estate investors and developers Yaacov Amar, Meyer Chetrit, Michael Chetrit and Simon Chetrit. The company lists a mailing address in Manhattan, a mortgage document in Cuyahoga County property records shows.

Moreland Ohio maintains an address in Brooklyn, New York, according to court records and a mortgage document. Records list Mendel Steiner as the managing member of the company. 

Scott said she and city prosecutors deal with many out-of-town landlords that own numerous properties in Cleveland. 

“Out of New York,” Scott said, according to the transcript. “You know, they own several properties. And they’ll – it’ll be a group of 10 and they’ll separate into five, and then they’ll come back together and there’s 20. I don’t know. They’ll change the names.They have multiple names. They’re legions.” 

The word “legions” can be used to mean “a large number of people.” But in a footnote in its filing, the landlord pointed out that the word is also used in the New Testament to refer to demons. 

The landlord also cried foul over comments about property investors that Scott made in a February interview with News 5 Cleveland, which aired before the city filed its lawsuit.

This is not the first time Shaker Heights Apartments Owner has sought to move the case out of Scott’s courtroom. In March, the landlord tried to relocate the case to federal court. U.S. District Judge Charles Fleming remanded the lawsuit to city housing court in August.

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Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.