EAST CLEVELAND, OH – Municipal court Judge William Dawson told EJBNEWS it was the city’s contracted lawyer, Willa Hemmons, who withdrew a “dereliction of duty” complaint against three Cleveland police officers she charged for failing to supervise the more than 100 cops that entered the city in violation of the state’s warrantless pursuit law on November 29, 2012. Thirteen Cleveland cops drew their weapons on Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, and gunned them down in a hail of 137 bullets. Ex-Cleveland cop Michael Brelo stood on the hood of Russell’s car and fired 47 rounds into their bodies; reloading twice. Dawson said he played no role in Hemmon’s decision to withdraw charges and knew nothing of her private negotiations with the lawyers for three of the five Cleveland police supervisors she charged in 2015.
“The prosecutor and three defense attorneys came to an agreement outside of court (meaning I don’t have any info on the settlement). The prosecutor then presented to court that the City of East Cleveland is dropping the charges against those three officers. They were not going to further prosecute them or take them to trial. There are two defendants left.”
Dawson said, “The only formal ruling by me was my refusal to dismiss the case based on Statute of Limitations; and then the issue presented to me about changing the jurisdiction or location of the trial.”
Dawson told EJBNEWS he heard a radio broadcast where the announcer claimed the judge dismissed the case and he realized the public was being delivered wrong information. “I was like NOOO. The prosecution dropped it.”
By noting that the agreement between the defendants’ attorney and contract lawyer impersonating East Cleveland’s prosecuting attorney came “outside the court” Dawson signaled the unusualness of the private negotiations and process. He told EJBNEWS he did not think the agreement Hemmons has not shared with council or the public is “secret.” He said she wasn’t obligated to share it with the court.
Dawson did not respond when asked by EJBNEWS if it concerned him that other serious criminal charges against citizens arrested by uncertified East Cleveland police might be secretly dropped for cash by an unsworn “private attorney” usurping the prosecutor’s office before they appeared in court.
Last year Hemmons shocked the legal community when she sent a letter seeking $5000 each from the police officers she’d criminally-charged to avoid a trial. There is no procedure in Ohio’s Rules of Criminal Procedure for a prosecuting attorney to criminally-charge and then use the office to extort money from the defendants to avoid a trial before a tribunal. Once the criminal process is engaged it is “the court” and not the prosecuting attorney that decides innocence or guilt and determines sentences and fines.
A prosecutor would have the authority and duty to withdraw charges if under Disciplinary Rule 3.8 in the Rules of Professional Conduct evidence is found that mitigates the guilt of the offender. But there’s no rule that allows a prosecutor who established probable cause that crimes connected to two violent deaths had been committed to secretly negotiate an off-the-books payment to an entity that may or may not be governmental in order to make the case against five offenders she’d charged go away. The trial was criminal and not civil.
In fact when Hemmons presented criminal charges she was affirming under Ohio Civil Rule 11 that there are grounds to support them. Now it appears she abused the authority of the prosecutor’s office she holds illegally for extortive purposes and cash; and not justice in her “secret” and “outside the court” acts. Prosecutors can’t cut secret deals with homicide defendants to pay fines in exchange for a withdrawal of criminal charges.
Hemmons is not East Cleveland’s duly-authorized director of law or chief prosecuting attorney. She is a contract attorney according to the agreement she signed with ex-Mayor Gary Norton and his chief of staff, Michael Smedley on December 29, 2014. The term began on January 5, 2015.
Law directors pursuant to R.C. 733.49 are “officers” of a municipal corporation and are required pursuant to R.C. 3.15 to be electors of it whether elected or appointed to the “office.” Law directors in non-charter cities are elected by the voters. In East Cleveland the director of law is appointed by the mayor.
The late Almeta Johnson was the last attorney legally-authorized to hold the office of director of law as an elector of the city. She was fired by Norton and replaced by Shaker Heights resident and attorney Ronald Riley in February 2010. Johnson was appointed by this writer from January 1, 2006 through the end of his term as mayor on December 31, 2009.
While East Cleveland’s charter is silent on the issue of residency for the city director of law; R.C. 3.15 is not. Hemmons resides in Shaker Heights.
To perform the duties of an “chief legal officer” of the municipal corporation required Hemmons to be administered an oath of office prior to the discharge of those duties pursuant to R.C. 3.22 whether she was elected, appointed by the mayor or contracted. The duties of a prosecutor are separate from those of a director of law; and are found in R.C. 2921.421. Pursuant to R.C. 309.03 an oath and bond were required before Hemmons could act in the capacity of law director / prosecutor to the city in civil or criminal matters.
EJBNEWS obtained a copy of Hemmons’ December 29, 2014 contract on November 18, 2016 from former Clerk of Council Tracy Udrija-Peters. The request came nearly two years after Hemmons had already been on the job.
Udrija-Peters was asked for a copy of Hemmons’ oath of office that Norton should have administered within 10 days of the beginning of her “term” on January 5, 2015. R.C. 705.28 requires oaths of office from “every officer” and employee to be filed with the clerk of the municipal corporation. Udrija-Peters told EJBNEWS Norton never administered an oath to Hemmons or delivered one as the city’s clerk of council pursuant to R.C. 705.28. Failure to take an oath and deliver a bond pursuant to R.C. 3.30 vacates the office after 10 days. No oath was administered before or after January 15, 2015.
What’s equally damaging for Hemmons is that while she has impersonated East Cleveland’s director of law and chief prosecuting attorney without an oath or bond, it has been her duty to advise the city’s officers on the performance of their official duties. Pursuant to R.C. 733.57 Hemmons, as the contracted director of law and chief prosecuting attorney, should have advised council that Norton failed to administer the oath to her and the impact of the decision. She should have advised Norton to administer her one before he started performing the duties of the office. So from the beginning of the contract she breached it. R.C. 733.57 exists under the heading, “Specific performance.”“When an obligation or contract made on behalf of a municipal corporation, granting a right or easement or creating a public duty, is being evaded or violated, the village solicitor or city director of law shall apply for the forfeiture or the specific performance thereof as the nature of the case requires.”
Councilman Nathaniel Martin raised questions about Hemmons’ lack of an oath and extortion attempt during a Monday, March 19, 2018 council meeting where King defended Hemmons’ acts with a request for council to decide whether or not the criminal charges should go forward. Hemmons attended the meeting in her allegedly official capacity as the city’s director of law and did not advise council that members of the legislative authority were not legally-authorized to decide the fate of criminal charges filed by prosecuting attorneys.
Martin mistakenly thought he could hear from the defendants’ attorneys before council decided whether to accept King and Hemmons’ scheme to extort $25,000 from them in exchange for dropping a criminal prosecution.
King explained to council that he opened up his and Hemmons’ $5000 each scheme for their input. Martin repeated attorney Henry Hilow’s words that what they were doing sounded like extortion. Martin has criticized King, a Richmond Heights resident, for being in violation of R.C. 3.15 which is another R.C. 733.57 violation of Hemmons’ in the “official capacity” of director of law.
Non-resident mayor King called the money request “restitution.” He explained that if the five criminally-charged police went to trial, and Dawson fined them to the max at $1000 each, all they were authorized by law to receive was $5000.
Hemmons claimed taxpayers would spend $75,000 to $80,000 in administrative and employee costs to try the case with her as the prosecutor and law director. To avoid spending the imaginary $75,000 to $80,000 figure, King explained to council during a televised public meeting that the “mayor” and “contract attorney” estimated a “beyond the law” $5000 each as a “restitution” for the unlawful killing of two citizens.
Neither Hemmons nor King cited a section of the city’s charter, ordinances, administrative code or any state or federal law that authorized mayors and directors of laws to create law-exceeding schemes of their own to administer “justice.” A trial judge during a criminal proceeding can order restitution for misdemeanor convictions pursuant to the process and computations in R.C. 2929.28; but not the mayor and council.
A mayor and director of law have no legal authority under any title, chapter, section or sub-section of the Revised Code of Ohio to create some wild-azzed scheme to demand a $5000 restitution payment from criminal defendants in exchange for avoiding a trial they’re claiming the city can’t afford to prosecute.