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Cuyahoga County courtroom concerns about safety, facility improvements

Posted at 10:29 PM, Oct 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-23 23:16:17-04

CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County Presiding and Administrative Judge John J. Russo shared his concerns about the dire need for courtroom facilities and safety improvements at the county justice center.

Russo told News 5 that 2019 has been a challenging year for overall conditions at the justice center and ongoing concerns over safety in light of multiple courtroom incidents thus far this year.

Russo pointed to the Oct. 22 acquittal of David Chislton, 42, who sucker-punched his attorney, causing an altercation in the courtroom with sheriff's deputies in February.

The situation involving Chislton wasn't the only incident to shake-up Cuyahoga County courtrooms over the past several months.

“At the same time deputies are being decreased on the floor, so we used to have four deputies on the floor now we have two, to handle all four courtrooms,” Russo said.

“Are we waiting at the expense of the public for someone to get hurt to say, 'Oh boy we need to increase our security.'”

Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutors Brian Lynch and Jeff Maver told News they were stunned Chislton wasn't found guilty of felonious assault after the entire incident was captured on deputy body cam.

"It sent shock waves through the Justice Center because defense attorneys are such an important part of our system,” Lynch said.

"These attorneys need to know that this isn't going to happen every time their client doesn’t get a result they don’t like," Maver said.

“I think it’s important for them to be able to do their job without fear of being harmed.”

Russo also outlined a lack of general maintenance and little replacement of worn out sections of courtrooms, hallways, bathrooms and common areas.

“In the six years as administrative judge, there’s been no improvements in this building,” Russo said.

“You walk in my courtroom, I have the 1976 orange chairs."

“I’m handing out index cards to jurors to write down questions when those things are being done electronically in other courtrooms.”

“We've had defendants, specifically one who had a mental health problem and was off his medicine, and confronted a judge in the back hall here.”

Meanwhile, Russo praised the stakeholders team that is currently working on a plan for a new Justice Center.

But said it's not clear if the county and the City of Cleveland are working on a significant funding plan for the project.

"We have 70,000 people coming in and out of the justice center every week," Russo said.

“We have to make sure you're safe and have adequate facilities, something must be done.”