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Spurned lawyer seeks JobsOhio return

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A lawyer stripped of her leading role in a legal challenge to Gov. John Kasich's private nonprofit job-creation agency has asked Ohio's high court to allow her to argue the case against JobsOhio on her own.

Former ProgressOhio attorney Victoria Ullmann told the Ohio Supreme Court in recent court filings that two politically opposed think tanks have formed a suspicious alliance that may be designed to undermine the lawsuit's chances.

Ullmann said the libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law has virtually nothing in common with liberal ProgressOhio, yet center director Maurice Thompson has been assigned to argue the case in her place.

"The governor has publically stated that he is determined to take revenge on the people involved in this case to try to disrupt the litigation," Ullmann wrote in an unusually emotional Feb. 28 motion. "Thompson's actions here may be part of a coordinated action by the governor's allies to derail the case."

Countered Thompson: "What do you say to that? No, there is no conspiracy to save JobsOhio. It's just a very important case."

ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg said his intention in allowing Thompson to argue the case is to reflect the broad political interest in the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The standing issue is important not just to the left, not just to the right, but to everybody," Rothenberg told The Associated Press. "Whatever decision we make is made in the best interests of the larger issue."

Ullman told justices she was the one who initiated and built the 2-year-old constitutional challenge to JobsOhio yet Thompson treated her "as if she were invisible." The action alleges, among other things, that JobsOhio's framework violates a prohibition in the Ohio Constitution against turning taxpayer dollars over to a private entity.

The core argument has been sidelined, however, as the two sides jockey over whether Ullmann's side has standing to sue. So far, lower courts have ruled the parties can't show harm and therefore don't have standing. The Supreme Court has agreed to settle the issue.

Kasich has expressed public frustration and ire over the legal challenge, which he views as an impediment to his job-creation efforts. He's called the lawyers obstructionists and nihilists and in January threatened to introduce a bill requiring the loser to pay attorneys' fees.

His spokesman declined to comment on Ullmann's allegations that allies may be fueling the 1851 Center's involvement, although Thompson said it isn't true.

Ullmann wants the court to uncouple both ProgressOhio and the 1851 Center from the lawsuit.

She says ProgressOhio has become "a detriment to the case" and the center has "overwhelming conflicts of interest," including the fact Thompson is accountable to a board of directors and to "potentially adverse donors."

"The questionable acts of ProgressOhio and the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law have made it necessary for (Ullmann) to protect the significant interest she has in this case...," her brief stated.

Ullmann said she had "a very specific" but unwritten agreement with ProgressOhio that's now been breached. She said she has spent hundreds of hours worth roughly $100,000 on the case, while ProgressOhio covered copies and court fees worth less than $600.

Thompson said the center's board supports his involvement in the case and does not seek to undermine the case.

"What's interesting about the issue of standing is it's a neutral political principle where the left and the right can agree that, although we may value different kinds of rights, access to the court to get those rights vindicated is important to all of us," he said.

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