Cincinnati churches appeal to Judge Nadel to end Western & Southern’s attack on the Anna Louise Inn

By Jason Dean

Josh Spring addresses the Anna Louise supporters who marched from Western & Southern's office to the Courthouse.

It’s been almost a year since insurance giant Western & Southern took the 103-year-old Anna Louise Inn to court and many concerned residents of Cincinnati are voicing frustration over Judge Nadel’s delayed deliberations on the fate of the historic affordable housing building.

Tornado sirens screamed across Cincinnati; it was noon on the first Wednesday of the month, April 4, 2012, but this noise also marked the gathering of close to a hundred people standing outside of Western & Southern’s (W&S) offices on the corner of Sycamore and Fourth. Led by representatives of various churches associated with the Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), supporters of the Anna Louise Inn stood for half an hour as a number of speakers called for the Cincinnati insurance company to be good neighbors and halt its legal campaign against CUB and the planned renovation of the Inn.

Organizers of the rally handed out packets of seeds to passersby, “seeds of hope” that perhaps CUB could appeal to the conscience John Barrett, CEO of W&S, but aside from bemused security guards and a few office workers going to lunch, no one emerged from the office tower to talk with CUB. The protest, however, was under the watchful eye of a horse mounted police officer and a handful of other law officials scattered along the block; it was not any riot police line up, but it was enough to unease some of the Anna Louise supporters.

The police escort was later useful when the protest moved away and marched up Main Street toward the Courthouse; a couple of officers on bicycles were able to stop traffic and allow the protesters to move as one body through downtown. The strangest turn was when the march arrived at the courthouse to be met by half a dozen of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office lined up on the courthouse steps as if prepared to block anyone attempting to enter this public building. Unlike the Cincinnati Police Department who had watched over the first portion of the demonstration, the deputies guarding the step wore facial expressions designed to intimidate. This show of force seemed unnecessary against a crowd that was comprised mostly of clergy and the elderly, but perhaps they were afraid that the crowd meant to storm the courthouse and bring harm to Judge Nadel.

Josh Spring, of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and no stranger to the courthouse steps, addressed the crowd and voiced aloud what many Anna Louise Inn supporters have been speculating since the start of the case, that Judge Nadel is not being impartial, that Judge Nadel’s actions, or rather lack of action, is favoring the side of the W&S plaintiffs. This speculation is often compounded by talk of Nadel regularly playing tennis with plaintiff lawyer Francis Barrett, brother of W&S’s CEO. From the very first court hearing back in August 2011, the defense has gingerly suggested that W&S’s decision to bypass regular zoning appeals and take the case straight to court was a timing issue to ensure that Nadel, a judge with a business friendly record, would reside over their suit against CUB.

A week before the march, the “final” hearings were presented to Nadel; supporters of Anna Louise were keen to finally get a deliberation, but after a couple of hours of hearing the same arguments that have been brought up the last three times that CUB and W&S have been in his court, Nadel still delayed and requested the closing arguments, which were almost verbatim from the previous hearings, be submitted in writing for him to ponder and come to a decision “soon.” From the first court appearance, seven months ago, the defense has observed that W&S are utilizing a delay tactic to keep CUB in a legal battle until such time as the tax credits that CUB has acquired for the renovation of the Inn expire.

Despite Barrett’s claims that the suit against CUB is not about W&S trying to “steal” the Anna Louise Inn (a prime real estate location that W&S has made under market value offers for in the past) and is rather a matter of following the letter of the law, the insurance giant seems determined that if they cannot have the historic building then neither can the women who live there.