Search About Newsletters Donate

Kids Assigned Unqualified Attorneys in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court

Judges are taking problems with attorney assignments “seriously,” official says.

This is The Marshall Project - Cleveland’s newsletter, a twice monthly digest of criminal justice news from around Ohio gathered by our staff of local journalists. Want this delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to future newsletters.

Juvenile court officials don’t know how many children were given unqualified attorneys

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court officials now have a plan to ensure that the private attorneys assigned to represent children meet basic state standards for education and experience.

The court will now also track case assignments that judges and magistrates give to lawyers, who are paid with public money.

Plans announced this month to the Ohio Public Defenders Commission didn’t satisfy dozens of residents from Greater Cleveland Congregations and other advocates who have called for reforms.

The group has connected the flaws in representation to the high number of children — mostly Black — who are transferred to adult court through a legal process called a bindover.

In March, The Marshall Project - Cleveland reported that the court’s case assignment process appears to violate state and national standards and the court’s own rules. The report found that judges appointed a small number of private attorneys to represent many children accused of serious crimes.

The commission stopped short of taking any action at the meeting, opting instead to gather more information about the changes before its next meeting on Sept. 13.

At the beginning of the year, more than 90 attorneys signed up to handle all types of cases. That list dwindled to 65 by May after the court emailed each attorney with a review of their education and trial experience, and to share which cases they were not qualified to handle.

At least 41 attorneys lacked some of the qualifications for the cases they signed up to take, according to a Marshall Project - Cleveland review of the letters.

One question officials couldn’t answer is how many children in recent years — or currently — are represented by attorneys considered unqualified.

“Whether they’re on a case or not, I don’t know,” Deputy Court Administrator Sarah Cigic told the commission. “We don’t know because I never asked anyone to document qualifications.”

— Doug Livingston and Rachel Dissell

Community Police Commission denied access to statewide police database

The civilian panel created to oversee the Cleveland Division of Police is being denied access to a statewide law enforcement database, which hampers their ability to perform their duties, records show.

The Community Police Commission sought access to the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, which allows police agencies to share information on criminal justice matters.

But a top Ohio law enforcement leader denied the request.

On May 16, Cleveland officials sent letters to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) advocating access to the database. Two weeks later, Bruce Pijanowski, the BCI superintendent, denied the request, according to federal court records.

The “rules restrict access to criminal justice agencies for administration of criminal justice,” Pijanowski wrote to Cleveland Law Director Mark Griffin. The Community Police Commission “falls outside the definition of administration of criminal justice.”

The commission was created in 2021 after passage by voters of Issue 24 to ensure police officers face appropriate discipline, but it struggles to operate. The commission is also tasked with reviewing police policies and creating rules for how the agency polices the public.

— Mark Puente

Crime Gun Intelligence Center comes to Northeast Ohio

A hub that will allow local police to swiftly trace crime guns and connect ballistic evidence to shootings opened this week, according to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Director Steven Dettelbach.

The center is located in an industrial park on Cleveland’s southeast side, and houses what officials say are cutting edge technologies that will help police quickly develop leads to solve crimes and prevent future violence. The concept of Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGIC) is still relatively new, with money from the ATF launching 60 hubs across the country in recent years.

“With this CGIC, it does not matter if a crime is committed in a city, a suburb, or a rural area,” Garland said in a statement. “The law enforcement officers who investigate will have cutting-edge technology at their fingertips and a lineup of experts ready to assist.”

Cleveland officials credited crime gun intelligence and law enforcement collaborations for an investigation that took 240 illegal guns off Cleveland area streets, and resulted in 59 federal indictments last fall.

And the Emmy goes to…

Mark Puente of The Marshall Project - Cleveland and WEWS have won a regional Emmy award for crime and justice reporting for their story on Samuel Herring and his efforts to obtain DNA testing after serving nearly 40 years in prison.

Around the 216