Investigator: Courthouse workers fear for their health

ELYRIA, Ohio -- Conditions in and around of the old Lorain County Courthouse don't seem to be improving any time soon. Now, employees are awaiting lead paint level results, after positive tests were found last week.

"My employees are very uneasy about it and there're scared," Chief Probation Officer Beth Cwalina admitted. "We have contacted University Hospitals to do some blood testing, these people are human beings and they are concerned for their health and safety.

In June, The Investigator Tom Meyer got a behind-the-scenes tour of the 133-year-old building near the picturesque Ely Square that houses the county's Probation Department. Inside, signs of deterioration were apparent. Black mold, sewage stained walls, leaky pipes, caved in floors and uncapped, non-functioning toilets were evident. "You have rodent droppings, ants and spiders, things like that going in the building. It's kind of disgusting," 18-year administrative assistant Gail Rogers said.

ORIGINAL STORY: The Investigator | Inside look at a county house of filth

Cwalina's department is the lone occupant of the building after its law enforcement partners left in 2004 to take up space in the seven-story $38 million Justice Center across the street. "It's been really hard for the last two years. I came from a court that was nice and well run to this place, so it's been difficult, to say the least," she said. "We need to be in the Justice Center with our justice partners and with the judges who we work for."

Safety concerns continue to be another glaring issues for employees. The Probation Department deals with roughly 2000 felons countywide, ranging from drug offenders to convicted murderers. "We deal with the most high-profiled felons who are not in jail," said officer Brian Thomas. "The lack of security is alarming and if the average person came in here they'd ask 'Why are they doing business here on a day-to-day basis?'"

Common Pleas Court Judge James Burge recently sent a directive to County Commissioners asking for deputies and metal detectors at all entrances from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. "Everyone who enters the building, other than employees, are convicted felons, so it's necessary that who ever enters the building is searched for a weapon," Burge said. "The building houses 35 to 40 employees, and it's not fit for human habitation. It's unhealthy and not secure."

Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti fired back at Burge's inquiry. In a letter the issued last week, Stammitti laid out the financial impact that the security staff would cost. The August 13 letter to the Board of Commissioners states in part:

If I had to provide this (security) at the Old Courthouse only than obviously I would need 2 full-time deputies and 1 1/2 intermittent deputies and the cost of a magnetometer and security wands at a total cost of $198,178.05 you know, I do not have this funding in my present budget and am requesting the funding from you to meet the requirements that have been recommended by the Ohio Supreme Court Security Assessment and also the letter of compliance from Administrative Judge James M. Burge.

The Commissioners will meet on Wednesday where they will discuss funding. Politics seems to be rearing its ugly head. Three county commissioners have three separate ideas as to what should be the next to move.

"If we go to the Justice Center, we will have a true hall of justice," said Commissioner Tom Williams. "It's a huge political issue, and we need to try to get one more commissioner to support it."

Commissioner Ted Kalo wants the department to sit tight while a better option is explored.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski's vision is to have the unit in their own free-standing building along Broad Street.

Follow The Investigator Tom Meyer on Twitter: @TomMeyerWKYC


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