A judge has ordered the City of Cleveland Heights to pay Ohioans for Concealed Carry’s legal fees after the organization .
However, the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge dismissed the lawsuit and ruled it moot in February, as Cleveland Heights less than a month after the lawsuit was filed. Cleveland Heights was ordered to pay $7,000.
The gun-rights organization took the issue to court in August 2011 because officials said Cleveland Heights’ gun laws were in conflict with new state laws, and the city had ignored requests from Ohioans for Concealed Carry to comply. The OFCC cited 20 specific ordinances, including those that ban licensed gun owners from carrying weapons in public parks, mandate that gun owners receive a city-issued ID card and prohibit gun dealers from displaying merchandise in windows.
The OFCC also said the city should remove old signs that remained in public parks banning people from carrying weapons.
Cleveland Heights Law Director John Gibbon said those regulations have not been enforced, and the city just needed to clean up the books.
Gibbon was also waiting for a more conclusive decision from the Ohio Supreme Court about the gun rights laws before the city formally removed them and took down the signs. And Cleveland Heights normally pays to have its ordinances revised once a year to save money.
But to comply, Cleveland Heights City Council passed legislation in early September that that ban gun owners from carrying weapons in public parks and other firearm regulations. The ordinance was passed on an emergency basis, so it would take effect immediately. Signs were also removed.
Gibbon said the city should not be responsible for any legal fees, but didn’t want to spend any more money fighting it through an appeal process, calling it a “nuisance lawsuit.”
“Our idea was we knew we couldn’t enforce (the gun laws) … but these guys, quite frankly, they got lawyers who make a living going around filing these things and they demand their legal fees. They did that, they filed, so rather than wait around for the codification service to take care of this until the end of the year, we immediately repealed it (in September) so it wasn’t on our books,” Gibbon said. “We knew if we did that the case would be moot, and we shouldn’t have to pay any attorney fees as a result."
Chris Harben, compliance coordinator for the OFCC, said in August though they were glad the city had changed its laws, the organization would continue to pursue the case and money for legal fees because they had asked the city to revise its laws since 2007.
"We're very happy council has done this, but frankly this should have been done some time ago," Harben said. "I know the law director made the comment that we were being zealous in following this lawsuit, but my comment to that is that this has been at least a couple of years that we've made these efforts ... He didn't do his job until he was sued.
“...I had a conversation with the law director myself trying to get this resolved. There was at least three attempts to resolve this without having to go to court."
Gibbon said in August this is an “academic exercise” with the OFCC, and that no one has been inconvenienced because the laws have not been enforced.
“The (OFCC) did call me on a couple of occasions and reminded me of the fact that we need to amend our ordinances,” Gibbon said. “I told them at the time that we were not enforcing (them,) and that I would try to get to it. But in their zeal, they decided to file the lawsuit, so that was a reminder.”
Ohioans for Concealed Carry published a press release once the hearings ended.
"It is very unfortunate that all of our efforts to encourage Cleveland Heights to follow the law over the course of many years fell on stubborn and deaf ears," said OFCC President Jeff Garvas. "Had city officials taken us seriously and treated us with professionalism and respect, we'd have never taken them to court in the first place."