Prosecutor Elect Mike O'Malley Makes Groundbreaking Pledges for Criminal Justice Reform

click to enlarge Prosecutor-elect Mike O'Malley speaks before the GCC - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Prosecutor-elect Mike O'Malley speaks before the GCC
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor-elect Mike O'Malley addressed a crowd of more than 1,500 people at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church Thursday night, pledging to enact several significant criminal justice reforms.

His announcements can be attributed in large part to the advocacy and pressure of the Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC), self-described as the "largest non-partisan electoral bloc" in the region. They were a major factor in O'Malley's toppling of the incumbent Timothy McGinty this March.

O'Malley said he has spent the past eight months working closely with representatives from the GCC. He said as much in a recent interview with Scene.

The GCC's network of regional religious communities is dominated by black churches on Cleveland's east side and Jewish temples in the eastern suburbs. The first criminal justice reform "action meeting" occurred in February at Fairmount Temple.

"February was the kickoff," O'Malley said. "Today we're moving the ball forward, but we're not at the finish line yet. It is through collaboration that we will continue to move the ball forward."

O'Malley made a few big announcements:

1) He pledged to establish within the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office a devoted Civil Rights Unit, the first of its kind in the County. "We can't have people who are discriminated against because of their race, national origin, sexual orientation, religious views," O'Malley said. He pledged that his office would work with U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon and her Office to establish a joint effort get Civil Rights cases prosecuted in Federal Court.

2) He pledged to abide by the commitments of his campaign related to police use of deadly force cases. He said, on the trail, that he'd recommend independent investigation and prosecution for all such cases, and he reaffirmed that commitment Thursday.

3) He pledged to reduce overcharging low-level nonviolent offenses at a rate of 7-15 percent per year. "We cannot incarcerate, penalize and institutionalize people because of drug behavior," O'Malley said, to applause.

Judge John Russo also spoke briefly, leading with a "justice system isn't just a system" pun, which was thoroughly well-received. He announced that the Cuyahoga County Court system had been awarded a Federal grant to expand the successful drug court, which aims to rehabilitate rather than imprison drug offenders. There are currently two courts with two dedicated judges in the system. The grant, Russo said, will allow for a third.

O'Malley said he would work to diversify the drug court program, arguing that those who walk through the doors should resemble the people of the County.

click to enlarge Parking was scarce outside Oliver, at Quincy and E. 87th. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Parking was scarce outside Oliver, at Quincy and E. 87th.
O'Malley announced some staffing decisions as well. Lisa Williamson will be his First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney. O'Malley said she will be the first female in the County's history to hold that position.

O'Malley also introduced Diane Russell, who will head the office's Criminal Division. She'll be the first African-American in the history of the office to hold that position.

Judge Russo commented on upcoming endeavors of the Mental Health court. O'Malley had pledged to "work toward" building mental health crisis centers on both the east and west sides, but Russo said building centers would only be part of the solution.

"We're working with partners on mapping," he said, "to understand and determine the problem from the ground up."

*Correction: This story was corrected to accurately convey Mike O'Malley's statements on the drug court. He wants those admitted to resemble the people of Cuyahoga County, not necessarily those working there.