MILFORD - An 18-year-old Milford High School graduate filed a lawsuit against the city’s school board, claiming they sent a police officer to his home and banned him from schools and meetings because he criticized teachers’ political activity.
Steven Oliver filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on Monday, claiming school leaders violated his constitutional rights to free speech and access to public meetings.
“The reality is there’s just a problem in local government, period, of not being able to handle criticism," said Cincinnati attorney Matt Miller-Novak. "They wield their power to silence it in crappy ways.”
This is the fourth lawsuit Miller-Novak has filed in a year against local government bodies in Clermont County.
“Apparently I’m becoming the champion against bad government actions in Clermont County,” Miller-Novak said. “You have to wonder how many other people this has happened to. We’ll find out.”
Miller-Novak believes local governments in Clermont County, and other rural communities violate state and federal law because media outlets rarely attend their public meetings or act as watchdogs.
“You would never be reporting on Milford if I wasn’t suing them,” Miller-Novak said. “Local governments are working in complete isolation.”
In September he filed a lawsuit accusing Milford City Council of holding secret, illegal meetings to advance the sale of property to FC Cincinnati, while hiding details of the deal from public scrutiny.
That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rachel Richardson, a Milford resident and freelance journalist.
“The city intends to vigorously defend its rights and responsibilities through due process in the court of law. We will not and cannot publicly comment on the current legal proceedings,” Mayor Fred Albricht wrote in a public letter to citizens in which he attacked the lawsuit as “the overzealous actions of one citizen.”
In July, Miller-Novak sued Amelia Village Council for allegedly violating Ohio’s open meetings law with a secret executive session.
His client in that case, Renee Gerber, is a former Amelia councilwoman who was led out of a special village council meeting in handcuffs in late June after she protested government negligence and misspending in her small community.
Amelia leaders have denied the allegations in court documents. That lawsuit is pending in the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas.
Then in October 2017, Miller-Novak sued Clermont County Board of Commissioners, its president David Uible, the county sheriff’s office and Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau on behalf of county resident Chris Hicks.
Hicks accused commissioners of removing him from a meeting for peacefully attempting to criticize a new hotel tax. That tax will help fund FC Cincinnati’s soccer training complex in Milford, according to the lawsuit.
Local leaders in that case have denied the allegations in court documents. The case is set for trial in U.S. District Court in September 2019.
The case filed on Monday stems from an 18-year-old high school graduate, Steven Oliver, who criticized teachers after a Milford School Board meeting in September.
A spokesperson for the school said Milford School Superintendent Nancy House cannot comment on the suit because she has not seen it.
Steven Oliver is a “politically-minded young man,” who plans to study politics at Wright State University, according to the lawsuit.
“Oliver feels strongly that a few of the teachers at Milford schools impose their political views on the student body,” the lawsuit states. “Oliver further feels that the Milford School Board does not do enough to curb this behavior and hold the teachers accountable.”
Oliver did not speak during the school board meeting. But afterward, he talked to a human resources school employee about his views. The next day Milford police came to Oliver’s house and told him that the school superintendent had reported him for threatening a school employee.
“Oliver did no such thing," the lawsuit stated. "Oliver made no verbal threats, and he did not raise his voice or even curse at (the employee).”
A day later, Milford City Schools sent Oliver a letter forbidding him from attending school board events or contacting any school employee. Oliver was never charged with a crime, and has no criminal history, according to the lawsuit.
“The consequences of the school board’s restrictions are significant," the lawsuit stated. "For example, Oliver cannot contact teachers to request letters of recommendation without the superintendent’s prior permission.”
Oliver is also worried that he cannot vote, since his polling location is at an elementary school.