Judge W. Moná Scott will continue to preside over Cleveland’s lawsuit against a Shaker Square landlord after Ohio’s top judge threw out a complaint against her.
The decision by Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy removes a roadblock from City Hall’s effort to declare a public nuisance at the set of apartment buildings on Shaker Boulevard. The conditions in the buildings have become a focus of Cleveland’s effort to get a handle on investor-owned properties.
Last month, an attorney for the landlord complained that Scott revealed a bias when she referred to out-of-state property owners as “incestuous” and “intertwined.” He asked the Ohio Supreme Court to remove the housing court judge from the case. Scott argued she was trying to address a real problem for the court: landlords who ignore court summonses.
Kennedy ruled on Wednesday that Scott would remain over the lawsuit. Although Scott’s comments were “unnecessary,” they did not rise to the level of disqualifying her from overseeing the case, Kennedy wrote.
“A well-informed, objective observer would not harbor serious doubts about Judge Scott’s ability to impartially preside over the nuisance case,” the chief justice wrote.
In their lawsuit, attorneys for the city accuse the landlord, Shaker Heights Apartments Owner LLC, of failing to maintain its buildings – leaving tenants with faulty heat, vermin, water leaks and more problems. The city is asking Scott to appoint a receiver over the properties until repairs are made.
Tenants, activists and City Council members had urged the city to take action against the New York-based owners.
Attorneys for the landlord argued in a court filing that the properties were already in bad condition when their client bought it. The new owners had put “significant hours and millions of dollars” into fixing up the buildings, their attorneys wrote.
Originally filed in March, the case has proceeded slowly. Earlier this year, Shaker Heights Apartments Owner sought unsuccessfully to move the case into federal court.
Cleveland is contending with an influx of out-of-state property investors who see an opportunity in apartment buildings and single-family rental homes. Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration has drawn up a slate of changes to city housing laws meant to streamline the process of issuing code violations to long-distance owners.