House Speaker and Ohio Redistricting Commission co-chair Bob Cupp, center seated, speaks with House Minority Leader Allison Russo, right seated, as fellow co-chair state Sen. Vernon Sykes looks on. The ORC agreed to hire two outside mapmakers to assist in the process of legislative redistrict after a third set of maps was struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court. (Photo: Susan Tebben, OCJ)

BY: SUSAN TEBBEN –  Ohio Capital Journal

Legal mediators were added to the mapmaking team on Tuesday by the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

Two members of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals were approved by the commission to act as mediators as the process of creating a fourth map dictating legislative maps.

Catherine C. Geyer and Scott Coburn were chosen after talking with the commission at their Tuesday meeting. They both are listed as circuit mediators on the 6th Circuit’s website, with Geyer listed as having alternative dispute resolution experience and Coburn noted for his work in civil mediation since 2005.

“Mediators manage the process and the parties manage the solution,” Geyer said when explaining their role.

Neither of the mediators have experience with redistricting cases, they told the commission.

The legal mediators act as neutral parties to address issues that come up as the mapmakers come up with map ideas and commissioners wish to register input in the process, or when disagreements come up.

“I think the advantage you have in this scenario … here, there’s the advantage of everyone trying to get to the shared goal,” Coburn told the commission.

The mediators are “the best deal you can get,” according to Geyer, because they are “on loan from the court,” so come at no cost to the commission.

House Speaker Bob Cupp and other GOP members of the commission asked about confidentiality rules and legal privilege when it comes to the mediators. He said it may be necessary for commissioners to be able to have confidential conversations, even as the Ohio Supreme Court directed them to make the process even more transparent.

Geyer said the commission and the mediators would have to lay down rules on what constitutes legal privilege and confidentiality, but state Sunshine Laws on public meetings would still apply, meaning any decision making would have to be done in the open.

The mediators also emphasized that while the process has a lot to do with the mapmakers, the commission members should be committed to being available as well.

“I think access to the decision-makers would be the most important thing from the mediator’s perspective,” Geyer said. “We could get headed down a particular path, only to find out that one of the commissioners is not in agreement.”

Geyer and Coburn will now join the original four caucus mapmakers, along with Professor Michael McDonald and Douglas Johnson, chosen by the commission on Monday night to act as independent mapmakers.

Also at its Tuesday meeting, the commission set a schedule up to their March 28 deadline. Meetings are set for:

  • Wednesday – 5 p.m.
  • Thursday – 7 p.m.
  • Friday – 2 p.m.
  • Saturday – 4 p.m.
  • Sunday – 4 p.m.
  • Monday – 10 a.m.

Thursday and Friday’s meetings are set to have virtual options, so members of the commission who may not be able to attend in-person can still call in. They will also be streamed for the public on The Ohio Channel.

SUSAN TEBBEN is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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