September 3, 2014

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Candidate can run, but he can’t hold office

LORAIN — Martin Leibas said when he decided to run for City Council, he never realized his 1994 aggravated drug trafficking conviction would keep him from holding office.

Leibas

Leibas said Monday that he has reformed since serving 27 months in prison and seeking office was a way to give back to society. Leibas — a Democrat running against Councilman Rick Lucente, D-6th Ward, in the May 7 primary — said he was surprised to learn that an opinion from Lorain’s Law Department said that while he can run for office, he cannot hold office.

Law Director Pat Riley said Monday that convicted felons cannot hold office unless they get an annulment of their conviction, a reversal of their conviction, have the conviction expunged from their record or get a gubernatorial pardon. Leibas said he sought election believing he could serve because some Cleveland politicians and out of state politicians have been able to hold office despite felony convictions.

Council President Joel Arredondo said he cautioned Leibas to make sure he was eligible to hold office when Leibas told him a year ago that he wanted to seek office. Arredondo, a Democrat, said he was disappointed that Paul Adams, Lorain County Board of Elections Director and Lorain City Democratic chairman, wasn’t able to give Leibas a definitive answer when he registered to run. Adams said Ohio’s law about convicted felons holding office is complicated and he wasn’t positive it restricted felons when Leibas registered to run.

Leibas, a 51-year-old employment specialist with Goodwill Industries in Lorain, said he’s worked hard to reform himself since getting out of prison.

“It is my past. That’s not the person I am anymore,” he said. “It’s just frustrating me that my past is stopping me from trying to achieve some things in the community.”

Leibas said he counsels prisoners at the Grafton Correctional Institution about how to stay out of trouble when they’re released and uses himself as an example.

In 2005 Leibas graduated from Lorain County Community College with an associates degree in human services, according to his resume.

He volunteers with several groups and boards including as a mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, a member of the Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress and as a member of the Lorain Fair Housing Board.

While facing an uphill battle against the incumbent Lucente, Leibas said he plans to stay in the race if he wins the primary.

He said he would consider seeking a pardon from Republican Gov. John Kasich.

“This was a dream and it’s not a nightmare at any costs right now,” he said. “I’ve come too far to give up now.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.