Fired County Attorney Questions Reasoning Behind Dismissal

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center [Matt Richmond / ideastream]
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Attorneys in the juvenile justice division of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office recently found dozens of stalled sexual assault cases among their files. The discovery led to the forced resignation of three attorneys in the division. But the problem may have existed long before one of those attorneys joined the office.

Linda Herman joined the prosecutor’s office in 2015 and worked in the juvenile justice unit. In late January, shortly after Michael O’Malley became county prosecutor, Herman says she was asked to bring any open sexual assault cases to her supervisors.

“You know really my understanding through the whole thing was to try to solve the problem. I thought that was where the energy was going to be focused. And it doesn't seem to have been the focus at all," says Herman.

Herman was responsible for four sexual assault cases, two of them she says were going to be closed without charges filed. Eventually, more than 70 uncharged sexual assault cases were found in the county’s juvenile justice unit.

In February, O’Malley asked Herman and two other attorneys to resign. But Herman says, of those 70 cases, two of the three fired attorneys were handled a total of seven, the third was a supervisor.* O’Malley’s office declined to comment on those numbers, and said in an e-mailed statement that failing to protect even one child is an unacceptable level of performance.

In a February phone interview, O’Malley said some of the cases were open for years without charges being filed, far longer than normal. When his staff looked further, O’Malley says they found roughly 2,000 other juvenile cases – including robberies and receiving stolen property - that had been marked as inactive in the office’s case management system.

“All cases need to be resolved one way or another. And placing them on such a thing as an inactive list, where it ends up that employees just do nothing with the case, is never an acceptable resolution. And that has been changed," says O'Malley.

The man who previously ran the juvenile justice unit, Duane Deskins, declined to comment for this story.

But the amount of time it takes to resolve a case involving juveniles is nothing new.

“It’s been a problem throughout all of time," says Carmen Naso, an instructor at Case Western Reserve University and a supervisor at Cuyahoga County’s juvenile unit from 2002 to 2008.

He says the delay is in part because kids are involved and the goal is rehabilitation, not punishment. Naso says there is also a long-running disagreement between the court and prosecutors over how cases are handled as they come in.

“This is an issue that was present in 2002 when I first started and it has evolved but is not well-established as to exactly what cases will be diverted and who will make that diversion decision," says Naso.

Naso says it’ll be a positive development if the scrutiny over these cases leads to faster resolutions. A 2015 memorandum of understanding between the prosecutor and juvenile court said, basically, that both sides will have a say in cases – cases will start at the court, they’ll make a recommendation on whether to divert it to social services or put it in the juvenile justice system and then the prosecutor will get the case and have a say. A spokesperson for the county’s juvenile court declined to comment for this story or say whether this system is still in place and may have caused the cases to go inactive.

Linda Herman, one of the attorneys forced to resigned, says the inactive cases didn’t come up in her disciplinary hearings.

“I haven't done anything to justify this. And I am proud of the work that I have done as a prosecutor," says Herman.

Herman says there were no other disciplinary actions taken against her in her time working at the county prosecutor’s office.

*This article has been altered since initial publication - the seven cases out of the more than 70 sexual assault cases that led to the resignations of three prosecutors were the cases handled by two of the attorneys forced to resign, including Herman. The original article says they were the total handled by all three. 

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