Chill-Can Youngstown

Judge OKs Chill Can Attorneys’ Withdrawal from City Case

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court has permitted two attorneys representing M.J. Joseph Development Corp. in its legal battle with the city to withdraw from the case.

Judge Maureen Sweeney granted a motion Thursday stating that attorneys Brian Kopp and Justin Markota of the law firm Betras, Kopp and Markota be allowed to withdraw as counsel for Joseph Development and Joseph Manufacturing Co., two of the companies behind the stalled Chill Can project.

The order stipulates that the matter would be stayed for 30 days beginning Feb. 1 to give Joseph Development the opportunity to obtain new counsel.

The court has scheduled an in-person status hearing for 9 a.m. on March 14, records show.

On Dec. 6, Kopp and Markota filed motions in Common Pleas court and the 7th District Court of Appeals to withdraw their representation in three cases related to Joseph.  The Common Pleas court and the 7th District earlier approved the attorneys’ motions to withdraw from two of the cases.

No reasons were given for their requests to withdraw. Generally, such requests are brought before the court because of disagreements with a client or for nonpayment.

This latest ruling affects the nearly three-year legal battle between Joseph Development and the city. 

Kopp and Markota have represented the company since 2021, when Joseph Development filed a complaint against the city in May of that year. That complaint asked for a declaratory judgment that would prohibit the city from collecting more than $2 million from the developer for breach of contract. 

The city countersued the following month, seeking a $1.5 million repayment of a development grant it awarded Joseph Development in 2017. The city also sought an additional $733,480 to compensate for costs it incurred for demolition and relocation expenses. 

Mitchell Joseph, CEO of Joseph Development, had pledged in 2016 to invest nearly $20 million to construct a technology and manufacturing campus on 22 acres on the East Side that would produce self-chilling beverage cans and employ more than 230 people. Three empty buildings were constructed, and the project has yielded just a single employee. Not a single can was produced.

In November 2022, Judge Sweeney upheld an earlier ruling by Magistrate Dennis Sarisky that ordered M.J. Joseph to repay the city its $1.5 million. In July last year, the court also awarded the city another $733,480 in sanctions related to the stalled project.

As it stands, Joseph Development is without representation in any of its legal matters related to the Chill Can debacle, according to court records.

These include a lawsuit filed by MS Consultants Inc. in January 2023 against Joseph Development that is now under appeal, and a foreclosure complaint that MS Consultants filed in July of last year related to its effort to collect a judgment from that case.

MS Consultants, an engineering firm based in Columbus and with offices in Youngstown, claims that it was never fully paid for services it performed as part of the Chill Can project.

The Common Pleas Court on March 20 issued a default judgment in favor of MS Consultants, ordering M.J. Joseph to pay the engineering firm $322,907.54 plus 18% interest calculated since Oct. 5, 2018, according to court documents. Joseph Development has appealed the ruling to the 7th District. MS Consultants has filed a motion to have the appeal dismissed.

As of Thursday, Joseph Development has not secured new counsel in either of these cases, according to court records. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.