CLEVELAND — Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry defended her department over concerns about slow legal response time in processing public records and action against potentially hazardous homes and nuisance nightspots.
Cleveland Councilman Michael Polensek raised concerns about law department attorney salaries and its potential connection to what he called 'high attorney turnover.'
Polensek said he and other council members weren't comfortable with law department response in processing efforts to oppose the liquor licenses of problem bars and taking action against condemned homes threatening neighborhood safety.
"Dilapidated houses, properties that are wide open, that are in deplorable condition, yet it takes forever to get those properties through the law department," Polensek said.
"Is it because there are an insufficient number of attorneys working on it, what's the issue?"
"Those are all legitimate concerns that need to be expressed and need to be answered by the law department."
Polensek pointed to 27 attorneys leaving the Cleveland Law Department over a three year period from 2016 through 2018.
Northeast Ohio private investigator Rob Slattery also expressed his concerns over law department response time when it comes to public records requests.
Slattery said he will file yet another lawsuit against the city over slow records response, which he said have jeopardized murder investigations and criminal cases.
"As far as public records, it's like a public records purgatory, I waited 288 days for a two page document." Slattery said.
"We're talking lives are in the balance. Whether it's a victim, whether it's a plaintiff, whether it's a defendant."
Langhenry defended her law department and told News 5 in a written statement that she believes the 70 attorneys on staff are sufficient to get the job done.
"The suggestion that low salaries mean that the city’s lawyers are the 'bottom of the barrel' and provide 'lackluster and disgruntled' representation is an insult to the hard-working and well-qualified lawyers who excellently represent the city’s interests on a daily basis," Langhenry said.
"The city is fortunate to have a large number of dedicated and skilled lawyers."
"I believe that the city has an adequate number of lawyers to handle its legal work."
"I am pleased that the 2019 proposed budget adds three new lawyer positions – two prosecutors and one assistant director of law."
Still, Slattery believes the law department needs to do more to bolster its effort in providing timely legal response.
"I don't know if they don't care, or they're incapable, either way it just can't go on business as usual," Slattery said.
"Something has to change."