Campbell Probes White Administration's Payment Of Law Firms

CLEVELAND (AP) - Mayor Jane Campbell (pictured, right) is investigating $137,000 in payments to law firms made shortly before she took office.

The checks were written at 10 p.m. on Jan. 4 and two firms were moved ahead of other firms that were overdue payment by the city, The Plain Dealer reported Monday. Campbell was sworn in on Jan. 7.

Former Mayor Michael R. White's acting finance director, Frank Badalamenti, originally refused to approve the payments.

He still contends that City Council's authorization to pay the bills expired at year's end, but said he paid the bills at the insistence of White's acting law director, Pinkey Carr.

Cleveland stopped paying its legal bills in June, when the law department ran out of money to pay outside lawyers and settle lawsuits.

In December, the White administration asked council to authorize the payments with $1.1 million left over in the 2001 budget.

Council refused to approve more than $500,000.

Alida Walker, budget analyst for the law department, said she and her colleagues then drafted a plan to pay each firm a portion of its outstanding bill.

Walker told The Plain Dealer that Carr approved the payment plan and signed the necessary vouchers.

By Dec. 26, more than $143,000 in checks had been sent. Walker said Carr then withdrew vouchers for the remaining $159,000 in payments.

On Jan. 4, Carr resubmitted some of the original vouchers and signed new ones to pay a total of $137,000 in bills, including extra money for Climaco Lefkowitz Peca Wilcox & Garofoli, and Taft Stettinius & Hollister, records show.

The Climaco firm got $36,300 and the Taft firm $7,000 that was to have gone to a third firm, Duvin Cahn & Hutton, the newspaper reported.

Carr said she did nothing wrong, did not block payment of some bills and never redirected cash to specific law firms. She said Walker failed to send the vouchers to the finance department.

"I don't think she ever submitted them," she said.

She also said she suspended Walker for one day because of the problems.

In seeking to get bills paid, Carr said she learned from the Finance Department that $137,000 was available. She resubmitted some December vouchers for two law firms and created new ones on Jan. 4 to pay Duvin, Taft and Climaco.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)