Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, corporate plaintiff demands $293,750 from City of Toledo for defending the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

March 13, 2020


Tish O’Dell
Ohio Community Organizer

Markie Miller, Organizer
Toledoans for Safe Water

TOLEDO,OH: The international corporate law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, has filed a motion demanding $293,750 in corporate attorney fees from the City of Toledo, for its legal defense of the popular Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR).

Not only do corporate interests want to repress a democratically passed law that drives new protections for Lake Erie, they also want to punish the City of Toledo for siding with its own people in defending that law.

“LEBOR was enacted in response to a public water crisis. It established an enforceable human right to water,” says Markie Miller of Toledoans for Safe Water (TSW). “Now, as our government is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the plaintiffs are attempting to collect scarce and necessary taxpayer funds to punish us for defending our water. The corporate plaintiff did not suffer any direct harm from LEBOR and it was their decision to hire a law firm that charges over $500 per hour to sue the City after LEBOR was approved by voters. Most people cannot afford such high-priced legal counsel to defend their rights.”

Since CELDF began supporting Ohio communities in protecting themselves from fracking and other harms, Vorys, has represented other clients across the state to interfere in local democratic initiatives, and to obstruct the growing Rights of Nature and Community Rights movement. The law firm is now demanding money from a cash-strapped rustbelt city that is dealing with a profound public health crisis.

“I predict that the judge will realize that principles of local democracy and the City’s right and obligation to protect all the people will prevail over the plaintiff’s insistence on being rewarded for picking a fight that it had little reason for starting,” says Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) attorney Terry Lodge. CELDF assisted Toledo residents in drafting the measure and overcoming efforts to keep the initiative off the ballot in 2018.

“This is a blatant use of corporate privilege to divide the Toledo community, intimidate other communities, and deter local governments from defending the rights of ecosystems,” says Tish O’Dell, CELDF Organizer. “This demand for taxpayer money should be swiftly rejected by the court. In a democracy, people should be able to introduce new legal ideas to protect themselves, especially when their legislature fails them. The courts should be open to living persons and not just to ‘corporate persons.’”

The law firm’s actions threaten democracy and may intimidate people from asserting their constitutional right to initiate law. “People’s right to alter or reform the government that is failing to safeguard them is protected on paper — in our constitution — but it is clearly not allowed in reality. We need to structurally change our legal system,” said Cindy Matthews of TSW.

We stand with the City of Toledo, and against these intimidation tactics. And we stand with the community groups TSW and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie. Their members worked tirelessly to pass LEBOR to protect the people of Toledo and Lake Erie.

The popular concept that Nature’s rights supersede the claimed rights of corporations is striking a nerve, evidenced by corporate attempts to stop it. People continue to rally for Lake Erie and Rights of Nature.

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level.


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