Jailhouse rap: The county’s lawyers must be more responsive

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Delays in court proceedings are so pervasive that, when parties are slow enough to trigger tongue-lashings and formal sanctions from judges, it’s a bad sign. Count three strikes against the Allegheny County solicitor’s office — and that’s just this month.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy took the rare step of calling out county attorney Craig E. Maravich on two separate cases, fining him in one and warning him in another. Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly earlier had sanctioned the county law office because of the way attorney Stanley Winikoff handled yet another case.

All three instances involved jail-related litigation — those handled by Mr. Maravich include one filed by survivors of a man who died in the jail in 2012 and the other filed by the mother of an inmate who had been found hanging in his cell by a sheet twice, the second time sustaining a brain injury. The third case, handled by Mr. Winikoff, was filed by a woman who was sexually assaulted by a corrections officer while she was an inmate.

The judges said county attorneys failed to provide appropriate records in a timely manner despite instructions from the court. Mr. Maravich was ordered to pay the bill for a plaintiff’s attorney who spent two and a half hours writing the motion requesting sanctions against him.

Solicitor Andrew Szefi, head of the county law department, said he is in the process of increasing the number of lawyers assigned to jail cases from three to four, and he has requested a meeting with the federal judges to discuss handling of jail cases.

Let’s hope he takes care of this matter quickly. The Allegheny County Jail already is on the hot seat because of concerns over the effectiveness of the private firm that provides medical care. The county’s law office needs to do a better job of handling the legal complaints stemming from incidents there as well.

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