Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Judge blasts city's motion,
lets Black United Front withdraw

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott had harsh words for Cincinnati officials Monday as she allowed the Black United Front to withdraw from the city's landmark settlement on racial profiling.

She said the city's suggestion that civil rights lawyer Kenneth L. Lawson also be removed from the settlement was at best "unhelpful" and at worst "mean-spirited."

The city - through a City Council resolution by Councilman David Pepper and a court motion by Solicitor J. Rita McNeil - argued that plaintiffs' lawyers in the case could not work to implement reform of the Cincinnati Police Department, and at the same time represent people claiming in lawsuits that the city was failing to make those reforms.

Dlott said it was "ludicrous" and "nonsensical" to argue that the lawyers could no longer represent the interests of individual plaintiffs.

"Though it would certainly comport with the City's recent discourse to attack the ethics of class counsel, the court will grant the City the benefit of the doubt and assume that any implicit references to class counsel's ethics are unintended," Dlott wrote in an eight-page opinion.

"Class counsel are prominent civil rights attorneys in Cincinnati. As such, they represent clients whose rights have been violated by the police. Unfortunately, such violations continue to occur despite the existence of the Collaborative Agreement. Inevitably, they will continue in the future," she wrote.

"In fact, the City's suggestion is mean-spirited. On one hand, the City has fought vigorously to keep class counsel's legal fees from being paid out of City funds. On the other, it now wants class counsel to significantly curtail their legal practices. Class counsel have taken on the overwhelming, and not lucrative, task of implementing the Collaborative Agreement. For this, class counsel should be commended, not punished," Dlott wrote.

Lawson said he felt vindicated.

"The motion was directed at me. I think that was clear. It was a tactic used to avoid responsibility under this agreement. All arguments over the collaborative will be done on the courtroom floor. They tried to do (Alan) Kalmanoff like this," he said, referring to the former court-appointed monitor in the reform case who resigned amid questions by the city about billing practices.

"They keep trying to give the public the perception they're in charge of something. They're in charge of nothing," Lawson said.

Pepper said the judge should have held a hearing to allow the city to explain its position.

"We were asked by the judge to give our opinion about the Black United Front dropping out," he said. "We did so, and we will move on. I certainly stand behind my statements that we have issues with the Black United Front that are not helpful in moving the collaborative forward."

The Black United Front asked to be removed from the agreement last month, saying it could not devote its energies to promoting a national boycott of Cincinnati while still helping to improve police-community relations.

Dlott agreed, and said the remaining plaintiff - the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio - was well suited to represent the interests of African-Americans who may be victims of racial profiling by police.

In doing so, the judge rejected the argument from the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69 that the Black United Front could not withdraw because it had "mutual accountability" for improving police-community relations.

That accountability belongs not to the front, but to the entire class of "all African-American or black persons," who are actual or potential victims of racial profiling by police, she said.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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