(Columbus, OH)—A group of sportsmen and conservation organizations is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to overrule a controversial decision by a lower court which threatens to hobble the authority of the Ohio Attorney General to protect Ohio’s natural resources.
On January 22nd, the groups—Ohio Bass Federation; Izaak Walton League of America, Ohio Division; Rivers Unlimited; Ohio League of Conservation Voters; Green Environmental Coalition; and Buckeye Forest Council—filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief requesting the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn a decision by Ohio’s Eleventh District Court of Appeals. The appeals court decision removed the Ohio Attorney General from a class-action lawsuit involving protection and public access to Ohio’s 312-mile Lake Erie shore.
The brief emphasizes how protection of Ohio’s natural resources, including the Lake Erie coast, depends on enforcement provided by the Ohio Attorney General.
The appeals court, when ruling on State ex rel. Merrill v. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, took the unusual step of removing the Ohio Attorney General from the case, finding that the Attorney General had no standing to participate in the appeal.
In removing the AG from the case, the Eleventh District found that “The Ohio Attorney General may only act at the behest of the governor, or the General Assembly.” However, the court’s decision on this point was a misreading of Ohio Revised Code Section 109.02, which defines the powers of the Attorney General. Nowhere in the revised code is the AG’s authority so limited, and, moreover, the Ohio Attorney General has long had common law powers to act as the top lawyer and watchdog for Ohio citizens.
While this question has arisen in the context of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline court case, the Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling on this question could have a broad impact on the Ohio Attorney General’s authority and independence to represent the interests of the citizens and sportsmen of Ohio on virtually any subject, including this and any other natural resource conservation or environmental protection issue.
“Conservation organizations and their members have a special interest in assuring that the Ohio Attorney General has the power to take on polluters and protect our natural resources—even when not asked to do so by the governor or the legislature,” said Will Reisinger, a Columbus lawyer acting as counsel for the six organizations.
“The fundamental question we want the court to answer is, ‘Does the Attorney General work for the governor, or does he work for 11 million people of Ohio?’”
“With this case, the Supreme Court can set a precedent that protects the independence or the Ohio Attorney General, making sure that he has the power to represent 11 million Ohioans and their natural resources,” said Reisinger.
Read the Amici Curiae Brief: State ex rel Merrill – Brief of Amici Curiae Ohio Bass, et al
UPDATE: Groups file response to motion to strike brief of amici curiae