January 2nd marked my first year as Judge of Cleveland Housing Court. During my inaugural year as a judge, I’ve worked hard to ensure a well-balanced and transparent Court that runs efficiently and effectively for the good of the community. While 2020 and a global pandemic was not what anyone had hoped for, surprisingly it became an operative blessing in disguise because it allowed much of the platform I campaigned on to be incorporated into our response to COVID-19, which impacts so many lives regarding one of life’s fundamental necessities...housing.
If you watched during my campaign, you knew one of my main platform goals was to make Cleveland Housing Court accessible to all. My desire was and continues to be that everyone is allowed to have their day in court where they can be heard, present their evidence and receive just and balanced rulings. This mandated me to assess prior functioning, priorities, efficiencies and effectiveness of the Court overall.
Two and a half months after ascending to the bench, with little time for me to become fully acclimated to my new role and duties, or to complete my staff transitions, the pandemic created a mandatory statewide shutdown and a shelter in place order, thus pushing courts to evolve without missing a beat. Housing Court’s number one goal was to keep everyone safe and healthy as the world’s battle against a deadly virus raged on.
VIRTUAL COURT: The Ohio Supreme Court met the challenge so that we could soundly establish Housing Court’s first virtual court. My team and I took on the challenge to make Housing Court innovative, accessible and safe. We created and implemented new policies and procedures with the community, safety, judicial prudence, stewardship, and fiscal soundness in mind.
SOLUTIONS: Turning a court’s way of doing business in-person to virtual has been interesting but not impossible because we've developed solutions. Housing Court created its first ever Zoom kiosk - a continuous sanitized space that allows individuals to get logged in for their virtual hearings and/or meditations. This way, the community can have their day in court without the lack of technology hindering their participation. We also developed solutions to issues with IT and lack of court e-filing. To encourage mediation all of the Court’s housing specialists became certified mediators and we instituted the Court’s first telecommute policy.
COMMUNICATION IS ESSENTIAL: Housing Court is striving to maintain contact with the citizens by hosting Zoom & Facebook Live virtual panel discussions around the new virtual court process, eviction moratoriums and training clinics. We have improved our webpage and increased our presence on all social media platforms. Our Housing Clinic was relocated on the first floor of the Justice Center for limited in-person assistance. In addition, our housing specialists receive AND return hundreds of calls weekly and have mediated more cases than ever.
OUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT: It is my hope in correcting and changing required legal filings & approaches, streamlining staff’s duties and procedures, tracking data, creating roundtables with Housing Court’s established City of Cleveland & community partners, and staying connected to the citizens will make Cleveland Housing Court a more accountable, transparent AND accessible court.
It is my honor to head this prevailing specialized court and my obligation to keep my promises on being fair, transparent and balanced. I’m learning, listening and striving to make us all better in our commitment to those who look to us as hope and stability during these unprecedented times. I hope my first year as your selected Judge of Cleveland Housing Court has done you proud.
Blessings and Happy 2021!