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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

Lawyer forced local bureaucrats to justify spending

Joseph P. Sheehy, a lawyer who brought taxpayers' lawsuits on several occasions to challenge local municipal projects, died Tuesday of leukemia in the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township. He was 79.

His lawsuits in the 1970s and 1980s usually were efforts to reign in what he saw as excessive spending for projects that included the SeaGate Centre and the Lucas County jail, said his daughter, Maureen Sheehy.

“He was definitely driven by the less government the better and the less taxes the better,” she said. “He really wanted to see the tax burden reduced for taxpayers.”

He was not successful in either case, but in doing so he helped put the projects in sharper focus for residents, she said.

“I think one of his goals other than the lawsuit itself was to raise the profile of the issue,” Ms. Sheehy said. The cases were of his own initiative. He maintained a general practice up until he became ill about two weeks ago.

In the jail case, he argued the proposed facility was too costly, and therefore an abuse of authority by county commissioners financing the project.

Mr. Sheehy opposed the use of a city hotel-motel tax to build the convention center.

Jude Aubry, a lawyer and friend, called Mr. Sheehy a mentor to younger lawyers and said he made elected officials proceed carefully when considering controversial projects.

“He may not have won what he sought, but he sure made them dot their `i's' and cross their `t's' the next time,” Mr. Aubry said.

Among other similar cases, he was awarded $5,000 in attorney fees for his 1970 lawsuit successfully challenging the constitutionality of city labor contracts that year.

Mr. Sheehy was proud and passionate about his Irish heritage, family members said.

For many years he hosted a St. Patrick's Day party at his residence. It often attracted more than 100 people who he expected to stay for dancing, gifts, and other presentations.

“He always had to have it exactly on March 17,” Dr. Jane Kramer, his daughter, said. “A lot of people came to expect that.”

He was an avid Notre Dame fan and read extensively.

Born in Toledo, Mr. Sheehy graduated from Libbey High School in 1940. An Army veteran of World War II, he graduated from the University of Louisville law school in 1949.

He was a former member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church and a member of Immaculate Conception Church.

His first wife, Katherine Sheehy, died in 1982.

Surviving are his wife, Sylvia; daughters, Dr. Jane Kramer, Mary Sheehy, and Maureen Sheehy; son, Patrick, and three grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Rosary Cathedral. His body was donated to the Medical College of Ohio.

The family requests tributes to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township or to the Immaculate Conception Church building fund.



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