LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

Cleveland Housing Court calls banks to account for absentee landlordism


Photo: Judge Ray Pianka and his personal bailiff Miriam Ortiz-Rush at a celebration held by ESOP (Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People),which advocates for homeowners in or on the verge of foreclosure.

I first heard about the Cleveland Municipal Housing Court back in 1992, when the current judge, Ray Pianka, was a Cleveland City Councilman and my husband, now a magistrate in Housing Court, was a Housing Court Prosecutor for the Cleveland Law Department.

The court in those days was much smaller, and the problems more plebian than they are today. His caseload consisted mainly of landlord-tenant disputes, evictions, people who let their grass grow too long or whose garages were collapsing, and "collectors," those puzzling folk who hoard so much stuff their homes become a hazard. Likewise, there were the "cat people," people who had so many cats --30, 40 -- that their homes became giant litter boxes, to their neighbors' dismay.

Once he prosecuted a guy who was keeping a pig in his yard -- and large livestock are forbidden by city codes.

"Why, sir, do you keep a pig?" my husband asked the defendant.
"Something to do," the urban pig farmer replied, shrugging.
Oh, but that was during the reign of Mayor Michael R. White, when Cleveland's neighborhoods were more stable, its housing stock more valuable, and restoration of old houses at its height.

That was before Cleveland became "ground zero" for the national mortgage crisis. Before Judge Ray Pianka, longtime advocate for the city's neighborhoods, became judge and expanded the Housing Courts services. As the Plain Dealer explains,

Judge Raymond Pianka is at the center of the area's mortgage crisis as presiding judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court's Housing Division. He has made the job into a nationally prominent position, whether he's ordering Wells Fargo to stop selling foreclosed homes or fining companies $1,000 a day when they fail to appear in his court on charges of neglecting their properties.
Today's PD offers video of Plain Dealer reporter Sandra Livingston talking with Michael McIntyre about Pianka's actions and the housing crisis. You can watch it here.

In addition to the PD, Pianka and the Housing Court's determined, innovative approaches to the problems brought on by the mortgage crisis have featured prominently in the national press.

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John Ettorre July 6, 2009 at 12:08 PM  

Pianka is a great example of an old fashioned public servant. That's a phrase often used, but too rarely practiced, sad to say. We could use a few thousand more like him.

LilaTovCocktail July 6, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

Hi, John!

It's so true about Judge Pianka. And his background as a councilman really helps. Now, if only someone could figure out why the hell the city Code Enforcement and Law divisions won't or can't bring effective cases against anyone, we'd be set.

John Ettorre July 16, 2009 at 10:54 AM  

If memory serves, Miriam was also the founder and editor of a great local Hispanic newspaper that served that area some years ago. That would make her a particularly good choice for the work she's now doing. And that's another thing about great public servants--they attract great help, people who stay with them for years, at pay below what they would probably command in the private sector. But they're inspired by the boss, and feel they're part of a great and crucial cause. You can see that in her smile.

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