Finney Law Firm is pleased to welcome our two summer Law Clerks, both from the University of Cincinnati College of Law: Margo McGehee and Zach LeCompte.

Margo E. McGehee

Margo joins Finney Law Firm as a third-year law student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, having spent her previous summer clerking for Alight Legal, PLLC in Washington, D.C. Margo spent the past semester interning with Magistrate Judge Litkovitz in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Margo currently serves on the Executive Board of the University of Cincinnati Law Review and as Senior Articles Editor of the Human Rights Quarterly. Prior to starting law school, Margo obtained her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Western Kentucky University in economics and Arabic.

Zachary J. LeCompte

Zach joins Finney Law Firm as a third-year law student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, having spent his previous summer interning with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio—Civil Division. Zach is also currently in his last semester of coursework in the Master of Business Administration program at the University of Cincinnati, and prior to his legal studies he earned a Bachelor of Science in Sport Leadership and Management from Miami University in 2016. Born and raised in Cincinnati, he is a passionate Bearcats and Reds fan.

Finney Law Firm attorney Casey Jones, who began her legal career as a Finney Law Firm summer Law Clerk, has ably recruited and is overseeing the firm Law Clerk program. For 2022 Law Clerk opportunities, contact Casey Jones (513.943.5673) or Katherine Fox (513.943.6668).

Today’s Canton Repository reports here on our latest lawsuit against the Stark County Board of Elections‘ planned purchase of Dominion Voting Systems voting machines. The contract was procured through illegal closed meetings — in executive sessions called for an improper purpose under Ohio law.

Finney Law Firm has a long history of successfully prosecuting cases involving violations of Ohio’s Open Meetings laws as part of our broad public interest law practice, including the notorious Gang of Five case involving members of Cincinnati City Council.

Contact Chris Finney (513.943.6655) for assistance with your Ohio Open Meetings issues.

There is a significant new development in Ohio property tax challenges directly and narrowly resulting from valuation reduction arising from the COVID-19 pandemic allowing such challenges this year.

As we discussed in a blog entry here, because of the unique timing of real property valuations versus billing, Ohio property owners impacted by COVID-19 rent reductions and closures really could not bring successful COVID-related valuation challenges before Boards of Revision in 2021.

To exacerbate that problem, Hamilton, Clermont, Butler and Montgomery Counties had the first year of the tax triennial in 2020 (for challenges in 2021). Therefore, if a property owner attempted a COVID valuation challenge in 2021 and lost, a property owner would be stuck with a bad (high) valuation for three years (tax years 2020, 2021 and 2022, billed and payable in 2021, 2022 and 2023).

This placed owners of certain properties in significant financial straits: Owners of apartment buildings near a university where student-based occupancy plunged or downtown when nearby office buildings cleared out, owners of large office buildings that could not rent because of COVID-related vacancies, owners of hotels and motels and other properties in the travel and hospitality industry, owners of restaurant properties and owners of malls and retail strip centers.

That all changed two weeks ago when Governor DeWine signed into law S.B. 57 which adds a second challenge period in 2021 narrowly targeted to COVID-related property valuation reduction (i.e., not that of general market conditions).

Here is the quick overview:

  • “Second bite” challenges may be filed with the Auditor only between July 26 and August 25, 2021.
  • “Second bite” challenges must narrowly be tailored to valuation reduction as a result of COVID-19.
  • The target valuation date for “second bite” valuations is October 1, 2020.
  • The “second bite” valuation reduction is retroactive to January 1, 2020 (before the pandemic hit America).
  • The “second bite” valuation reduction will last for the remainder of the triennial (in Hamilton, Clermont, Butler, and Montgomery Counties thru the 2022 tax year, billed and paid in 2023).
  • The bringing, and “win” or “loss,” of a valuation challenge for the “second bite” hearings is in addition to the general challenge filed before March 31, 2021 and does not prejudice non-COVID-related (i.e. general market conditions) challenges in later years.
  • The legal and evidentiary hurdles associated with “second bite” challenges are the same, as we see it, to challenges brought in Ohio, meaning an appraisal (supported by testimony from the appraiser) and presentation by a qualified attorney are strongly recommended.

If you have a “second bite” property that would benefit from a challenge narrowly targeted to COVID-19 economic impact, please quickly contact Chris Finney (513) 943-6655) or Casey Jones (513-943-5673) to allow us to help you secure this tax savings.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Ohio Department of Education’s adoption of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project’s for implementation throughout Ohio’s school systems, we should all agree that an open and robust debate about that policy before public bodies is appropriate and required under the U.S. Constitution. But that’s not how the Ohio Board of Education sees things.

Once they hastily adopted the new policies, they then formally forbade speakers before them from criticizing their decision. The ODE allows public comment on all other topics, but specifically not these two.

So, last week, the Finney Law Firm filed suit against ODE challenging these restrictions on speech during the public comment section of Board meetings. Read that suit here.

The Board did not just quietly and unconstitutionally squelch in a public forum,  but they explained why they were privileged — indeed compelled — to trample on the Constitution in this instance:

  • “[O]ur board president has instituted a policy that prevents people from speaking to our group in reference to any of these issues about critical race theory, etc.…  I’m not sure why we have a filter on what we’re allowed to hear here, but we do.”
  • “I was really glad when [LAURA KOHLER] said we weren’t going to have those speeches anymore”
  • “I would just prefer that we not have a conversation about critical race theory, or 1619….”
  • “I don’t want to sit here again and listen to two months of people – they have their opinions….  This is not what I’m here for”
  • “I’m using race and I don’t feel ashamed about that”
  • That if such public comments or testimony were allowed then the meeting of the OHIO STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION “would not longer be a safe space for me”

I suppose if you are that delicate and thin-skinned, perhaps you should not sign up for the rough and tumble of public office. Just a thought.

Media coverage of this is below:

For inquiries on this story, contact Curt Hartman (513.379.2923) or Chris Finney (513.943.6655).

Today, President Joseph Biden announced immediate and significant changes to the Paycheck Protection program, as follows:

  1. Priority period for businesses with fewer than 20 employees for two weeks starting this Wednesday, February 24th.
  2. Different loan (grant) calculation for sole proprietors and a set-aside of $1 billion for businesses in low- and moderate income areas.
  3. Made eligible those with non-fraud felony convictions.
  4. Made eligible business owners with student loan defaults.
  5. Made eligible all lawful U.S. residents with visas or Green Cards.

Forbes magazine has more details on these breaking developments here.

The second round of stimulus signed by then-President Trump in December extended the Centers for Disease Control limited federal eviction moratorium (started in October) through January 31, and then immediately upon taking office, President Biden extended the stay on evictions through March 31. So, landlords of qualifying non-paying tenants continue to be legally prohibited from recovering possession of their properties.

And a related component of the second stimulus bill was a rental assistance program that allowed tenants — with federal subsidy — to continue to pay their rent, and even recoup back rental accrued, so landlords could be made whole despite the eviction prohibition.

Today’s New York Times writes on the toll the pandemic is taking on the housing industry, including landlords and tenants, which led us to update on “what is the status of the rental assistance component of the stimulus bill?”

What do we know:

  • The rental assistnce is being given from the federal government to the states, who will then each establish their criteria, and application and distribution programs. Some states will be distributing the money to counties and cities for further distribution. What this will mean is a patchwork of criteria for qualification, multiple software portals, and delays in implementation.
  • We have inquired to to roll-out dates and assistance criteria and, at least as to Ohio and Kentucky, not only are none of the application and distribution procedures known, there does not even appear to be discussions with stakeholders taking place as to how best to get the assistance to those in need.
  • Thus, we had hoped that tenants and landlords could get relief by some time in March, but that does not appear feasible. Our best bet right now is April/May, but that is just speculation.

The fact that Ohio paid out $330 million in fraudulent unemployment claims in 2020 will likely slow the process to assure that bogus rental assistance claims do not slide through.

We will attempt to keep our readers informed of developments on the moratorium and rental assistance programs as they emerge.

Every year, the Auditor of each of Ohio’s 88 counties publishes a chart like this showing the tax rates for each taxing district in each County.

In Hamilton County, there are 241 distinct taxing districts, each having a complex calculation to develop the net residential and commercial rates of taxation (taxing districts being greater in number than either municipalities and townships or school districts, because the boundaries of some frequently overlap one another). Here are the five highest commercial and residential taxing districts in Hamilton County:

Highest Commercial rates
MunicipalityTownshipSchool DistrictCommercial millageCommercial percentage
WyomingSpringfieldFinneytown135.544.765%
ColombiaMariemont131.3564.618%
SpringfieldFinneytown128.5894.521%
Lincoln HeightsPrinceton123.754.351%
Mt. HealthySpringfieldMt. Healthy121.6654.277%
Highest Residential rates
MunicipalityTownshipSchool DistrictResidential millageResidential percentage
Lincoln HeightsPrinceton111.4663.919%
WyomingSpringfieldFinneytown110.3443.879%
Mt. HealthySpringfieldMt. Healthy104.6193.678%
SpringfieldFinneytown103.3943.635%
Golf ManorCincinnati101.263.560%

As you can see, several Hamilton County commercial districts well exceed 4.0% in annual tax rates (approaching 5.0%) and the highest residential rates are bumping up against the 4.0% threshold.

 

We were just notified that attorney Christopher P. Finney, founder of the Finney Law Firm, again has been named “Leading Lawyer” by Cincy Magazine for 2021. The specific practice category in which Mr. Finney was selected is “First Amendment Law.”

These awards are on top of “Ohio Lawyer of the Year” by Ohio Lawyer Magazine, “AV Preeminent” by Martindale Hubbell, and the the firm’s recognition in “Best Lawyers” by US News.

We thank our clients for the opportunity to work on such rewarding and meaningful cases and these services for recognizing our proficiency.

 

The Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors today reported December 2020 home sales numbers. And once again reported record-breaking home sales:

  • The most home sales of any December in Greater Cincinnati.
  • Average sales and median pricing continued their ongoing increases.
  • Closings in December exploded, up 21.04% against a strong December 2019 with total sales volume up 35.66%.
  • December 2020 home sales were 2,267 compared to 1,873 in December 2019.

You may read the CABR release here.