Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Leisure sues Reeces over offer

By Gregory Korte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece offered to settle a wrongful death lawsuit by the mother of Timothy Thomas if she fired a lawyer critical of the vice mayor, according to a $55 million federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

        Angela Leisure and her lawyer, Ken Lawson, claim that the vice mayor and her father engaged in an “underhanded, manipulative and illegal scheme” to induce Mrs. Leisure to settle her lawsuit for “peanuts.”

        Mrs. Leisure is suing the city over the death of her son, whose shooting in April 2001 led to the city's worst rioting in decades. She wants $10 million in that lawsuit.

        The new lawsuit is against Ms. Reece; her father, Steve Reece; and James Washington and his company, Washington Limousine Service.

        The lawsuit claims that Ms. Reece is retaliating against Mr. Lawson for being publicly critical of Ms. Reece for taking positions “against the African-American community.”

        Ms. Reece, a 31-year-old councilwoman who's been an outspoken opponent of the Cincinnati boycott, did not return phone calls.

        However, her office released a statement denying improper conduct.

        “Neither Ken Lawson nor anyone else is going to use a frivolous lawsuit to successfully bully me into not doing my job or changing my position on critical issues,” she wrote.

        According to the lawsuit, the offer to settle came through intermediaries in a series of meetings last week:

        On April 23, Mr. Washington sent word through an employee that he wanted to talk to Mrs. Leisure.

        Mr. Washington told her he knew about her financial situation — Mrs. Leisure and her husband filed for bankruptcy April 9 — and the impending foreclosure of her home.

        He then told Mrs. Leisure he had spoken to “officials” and could settle her lawsuit in one day — but only if she fired Mr. Lawson. If not, it could take her years to get money from the city, he said.

        Mr. Washington later identified those “officials” as Ms. Reece.

        The next day, Mr. Washington told Ms. Reece he had spoken to Mrs. Leisure, the lawsuit said. Ms. Reece spoke to City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

        Later, Mr. Washington reported to Mrs. Leisure the result of that meeting, once again giving her an ultimatum: Fire Mr. Lawson and get between $50,000 to $500,000 within 10 days, and the remainder of the $2.4 million in 90 days.

        The lawsuit further claims that Ms. Reece's father, Bond Hill businessman Steve Reece, directed the settlement effort from behind the scenes. “Steve Reece is Alicia Reece,” Mr. Washington reportedly told Mrs. Leisure.

        Mr. Reece did not return phone calls, and Mr. Washington declined comment. In her written statement, Ms. Reece gives this account:

        Mr. Washington contacted her, suggesting that Mrs. Leisure was interested in settling. Ms. Reece talked to the city manager.

        “We quickly determined that the city of Cincinnati could not and would not talk to Mrs. Leisure or anyone else about a settlement without the involvement of her legal counsel. I relayed that back to Mr. Washington. That was the end of my involvement in the matter,” she wrote.

        Ms. Reece's account is supported in part by the city manager.

        “She asked me what the procedure would be to settle a lawsuit, and I told her that if they had counsel, we would have to go through counsel,” Ms. Lemmie said.

        Mr. Lawson did not return calls seeking comment.

        His office released a terse statement denying he had ever told a member of Cincinnati City Council that he was unwilling to settle the wrongful death cases.

        Mayor Charlie Luken, who named Ms. Reece as vice mayor, said Tuesday that he's “100 percent in her corner.”

        “I have known her for three years. She's never done anything that hints of unethical behavior, and I'm sure she did nothing wrong here,” he said.

        The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, who presided over Mr. Lawson's racial profiling lawsuit against the city. The settlement of that lawsuit last month provided the framework for sweeping reforms in the Cincinnati Police Department.


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