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Challenger for Elyria law director says system was rigged

  • Honey-Howard-Rothschild-2009-Primary-Election-jpg

    Honey Howard Rothschild

    CHUCK HUMEL / CHRONICLE FILE

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ELYRIA — With the Democratic nominee for Elyria law director in November’s general election less than two days into serving out the remaining four months of her predecessor’s term, the independent challenger for the job is claiming conspiracy.

Voters will choose between Democrat Amanda Deery, now the sitting law director, and independent challenger Honey Howard in the November election.

Making matters more complicated is that Deery remains Howard’s boss in the Elyria Law Director’s Office, at least until Howard’s own planned retirement Jan. 31, 2020 — a retirement set forth in a legal settlement reached after Howard sued the city for discrimination in federal court.

Howard on Tuesday said the elections process already is rigged against her, alleging her new boss was hand-picked by outgoing Law Director Scott Serazin to succeed him — effectively barring Howard from running in the Democratic primary in May on penalty of losing her job.

Howard also claimed “many attorneys” in Elyria who are Democrats “would have run” to replace Serazin if he had announced his intention to retire before he did so in February.

“It wasn’t fair,” Howard said. “Not just for myself but any other Democrats who wanted to run. ... They conspired to get Amanda the position. Those two conspired to get her elected in that position and to thwart any competition from me or any lawyers. They shut out every lawyer.”

Asked to name one of the aggrieved attorneys, she declined, also attacking Deery’s qualifications to be the city’s top lawyer.

Serazin said Tuesday that Howard is allowed to think what she wants, but that “she’s wrong” that he stopped her from seeking the position.

“That’s not true,” he said. “The facts don’t support that. ... There was nothing prohibiting (Howard) from running for law director any time she wanted. ... It was well-known I wasn’t going to run for another term, for months before the primary.”

Deery, Serazin’s chief of staff since 2016, confirmed Serazin’s account.

“Quite simply at the end of last year, because the petitions were going to be made available, I approached Scott because he had been making some informal comments here and there and in the office and to other people in the community that he was thinking he would not seek reelection,” Deery said.

When Serazin confirmed his decision to resign and retire, Deery said she filed her petitions to get on the primary ballot.

In a two-page letter dated Sunday, Serazin informed Council President Mike Lotko that he was resigning effective that day in order to start his retirement Monday. In the same letter, he designated Deery as acting law director until City Council could vote on his replacement.

The city charter allows the law director to name an interim successor. On the matter of a full-time replacement, it states any vacancy in the office of law director “shall be filled by a majority vote of the members of Council of the same political party as the person whose term is vacated.”

Both Serazin and Deery are Democrats, and the nine Democrat members of City Council present at Monday’s meeting voted 9 to 0 to appoint Deery to fill out Serazin’s unexpired term.

Howard, a prosecutor in the Elyria Law Department since 1995, said Tuesday she thinks Elyria taxpayers “deserve to get what they paid for: A law director with civil and criminal skills.”

Howard said she has both while Deery has only civil experience in her time with the Law Director’s Office.

“Amanda Deery has not done any trials or handled any significant criminal cases in Elyria Municipal Court,” Howard said. “Therefore, when taxpayers pay her salary, the taxpayers are not getting all they’re paying for.”

Being chief of staff to the law director was about “handling personnel matters and vacation time” — not supervising criminal prosecutors in municipal court, Howard said Tuesday.

“You have prosecutors the law director must guide,” Howard said. “How can (Deery) tell the prosecutors what to do?”

Deery said she has heard those criticisms, and on Tuesday called them “patently inaccurate.”

“I’ve been the chief of staff for three years in the law director’s office, and I understand that my opponent is characterizing those job responsibilities in a certain way. But with all due respect, I don’t think she knows what my daily job responsibilities entail,” Deery said. Howard “was part-time up until the beginning of this year, so our interactions were very limited.”

Deery pointed both to her experience as chief of staff to Serazin and to her eight years handling child support and juvenile delinquency matters for the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office as suitable experience. Some of that included prosecuting juvenile sex offenses, arsons and kidnappings. In the Law Director’s Office, she said, she handled “numerous” pretrials and arraignments in Elyria Municipal Court.

Deery said she has faith and trust in the staff of the Law Director’s Office to work hard, do their jobs and represent the people of Elyria in legal matters.

“I look forward to interacting with the voters and sharing my qualifications,” Deery said. “Yes, (Howard) has been with the office since 1995, but I’ve been practicing on a full-time basis with two different government entities for over 15 years now and I think that speaks for itself.”

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.


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