Judge W. Moná Scott, who runs Cleveland Housing Court, is pushing back against attorneys for a Shaker Square landlord who want her booted from their client’s case.
The City of Cleveland is suing the out-of-state landlord over poor conditions in a group of Shaker Square apartment buildings. Last month, the landlord’s attorneys argued that Scott betrayed a bias against their client when, in a separate case, she made comments about “incestuous” business links between investors “out of New York.”
The landlord is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to remove Scott from the case. But in a Sept. 22 legal filing with the state’s high court, an attorney for Scott wrote that the landlord took the judge’s remarks out of context.
Scott wasn’t trying to take shots at individual landlords, her attorney wrote. Instead, the judge’s attorney said she was addressing a real problem in housing court: landlords who skip court dates for code violations while asking the same court to rule on evictions.
“Her concern was not focused on any single corporation or organization,” Scott’s attorney, Lisa M. Zaring, wrote. “Rather, she was trying to protect the system and those coming before it, specifically ensuring that both civil and criminal cases were being addressed.”
The complaint against Scott involves two different New York companies that own property in the Shaker Square area. One is Moreland Ohio LLC. The other is Shaker Heights Apartments Owner LLC. The latter landlord is trying to remove Scott from the city’s lawsuit against it.
But it was in Moreland Ohio’s case that Scott made the comments now at issue. In a Nov. 14 hearing last year, the judge suggested Moreland Ohio and other limited liability companies were “intertwined” with Shaker Heights Apartments Owner.
Attorneys for both companies have said the two are not connected. But Moreland Ohio is linked to an area landlord with a name similar to Shaker Heights Apartments Owner.
Zaring argued that the judge was trying to communicate to Moreland Ohio’s lawyer that many big landlords had similarities, be it in name, registered agent or address – and that they were ending up in court for the same problems.
“When she made her comments to counsel for Moreland, she was going off memory, not reviewing the files side by side,” Zaring wrote, adding, “She was trying to impress upon counsel that his client – Moreland – could not fail to appear in its criminal case and yet seek to enforce evictions in its pending cases or those connected to it.”
Both companies had previously failed to show up for court dates in their code violation cases, Zaring wrote.
Activists and City Council members have been agitating for months for the city to crack down on code violations in Shaker Square apartment buildings. The city sued Shaker Heights Apartments Owner in March and asked Scott to pause evictions until the landlord brought the buildings up to code.
Scott initially agreed to freeze evictions, but the 8th District Court of Appeals overruled her in July. Since then, Scott has allowed Shaker Heights Apartments Owner to evict tenants, Zaring noted – “without any concerns of bias or prejudice being raised by the parties,” she added.
An Ohio Supreme Court representative said there is no timeline for a decision on the request to remove Scott from the case.