Lake Erie Bill of Rights: Ruling expected on partnership status

Larry Limpf

A ruling on a motion challenging the status of Drewes Farms Partnership in the partnership’s lawsuit to invalidate the Lake Erie Bill of Rights may be issued within a month.
Shortly after Toledo voters in February approved the LEBOR ballot initiative, the Drewes partnership filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to block its enactment.
The initiative amends the Toledo City Charter and gives Lake Erie recognition as an ecosystem with the right to “exist, flourish and naturally evolve.”
Recently, attorneys for the city filed a challenge to Drewes’ existence as a functioning partnership and the consequent legal standing to have filed the lawsuit.
Judge Jack Zouhary could be issuing a final ruling on the matter by late August or early September, said Terry Lodge, an attorney for the Community Environmental Defense Fund, which is not a party to the lawsuit but helped prepare the initiative for the ballot.
On May 24, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a complaint with the court to seek a permanent injunction to invalidate the LEBOR.
Yost’s complaint argues the charter amendment “purports to grant rights that exceed the city’s authority and conflict with Ohio environmental, agricultural, natural resources, and corporate laws. Thus, the charter amendment is preempted by the general laws of Ohio.”
The CELDF assisted a local organization, Toledoans for Safe Water, with drafting the ballot initiative and Markie Miller, of TSW, said it was a lack of action by the state in addressing the Lake’s condition that spurred local residents to press for the charter amendment.
In June, three Toledoans who were involved in the effort to get the initiative on the ballot, filed a complaint in Lucas County Common Pleas Court seeking an order to enjoin the state from seeking the invalidation of LEBOR “through federal court or other court processes.”
The three, Mike Ferner, a member of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, Bryan Twitchell and John Michael Durback, contend that the state, by bringing litigation in federal court to invalidate LEBOR, violated the Ohio Constitution and breached “the fundamental social contract between government and the people…”
The attorney general last month responded with a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing the three plaintiffs lack standing to bring the lawsuit and there isn’t a legal basis for precluding the state, through the attorney general, from defending state interests in Lake Erie and state environmental, natural resources and agriculture laws.
In a July 22 press release, Ferner and Miller, also take aim at language in the recently approved state budget bill.
Miller said the “sneaky and seemingly innocent language values, above everything, corporate 'rights' to destroy the natural life sources we all depend on, for immediate profit, the consequences be damned."
In part, the language reads:
-Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate in or bring an action in any court of common pleas.
- No person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall bring an action in any court of common pleas.
- No person shall bring an action in any court of common pleas against a person who is acting on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem.
- No person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall intervene in any manner, such as by filing a counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party complaint, in any action brought in any court of common pleas.


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