CLEVELAND (CN) – A Cleveland law firm claims in court that the city of Akron owes over $322,000 for legal services related to a former Akron police officer who secretly recorded nearly everything he did and everyone he spoke with for roughly 15 years.
A lawsuit filed last week in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas alleges the city retained Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder in 2014 for the specific purpose of providing legal advice and assistance regarding Donald Schismenos, a former police officer.
Schismenos started working for the Akron Police Department in 1992 and was “red-flagged” for conduct in 1996 after becoming one of the department’s leaders in citizen complaints for use of force and racially profiled traffic stops, according to multiple reports by the Akron Beacon Journal.
It was then that Schismenos began clandestinely recording his interactions with other officers and members of the public using a pen camera attached to his uniform and a personal dash camera mounted inside his cruiser.
By 2011, Schismenos had reportedly stored thousands of hours of audio and video recordings on the police department’s server, which took up over a quarter of the available storage space and created a noticeable drag on the department’s computer system.
His cache of videos, audio recordings and images were discovered in the summer of 2011 and he was immediately placed on paid leave.
He remained on paid leave for over two years, earning over $125,000, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, while the Akron police department, Summit County prosecutors and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducted lengthy investigations into his conduct.
Schismenos eventually resigned in 2013 as part of a settlement in which the city agreed not to pursue criminal charges and Schismenos agreed not to contest his removal.
The U.S. Justice Department later reviewed Schismenos’ conduct for possible civil rights violations and ultimately declined to take any action against the former officer.
In 2014, the city dismissed nearly 100 open or unresolved traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases filed by Schismenos.
In early 2015, Schismenos’ previously undocumented recordings led to the dismissal of assault charges against Edward Williams, a black man who was convicted of assaulting a police officer after Schismenos and another officer forcefully arrested him during a traffic stop in 1996.
Williams sued Schismenos and the city of Akron in October 2015 for alleged civil-rights violations, malicious prosecution and withholding exculpatory evidence.
Akron’s contract with Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder for special legal services was executed on Sept. 24, 2014 by Akron’s former director of law.
That contract was subsequently amended three different times to raise the maximum compensation that the firm could charge the city, according to the law firm’s Nov. 22 lawsuit.
Under the terms of the original agreement, the law firm could charge the city no more than $100,000 for its services, but its maximum compensation was significantly increased; first from $100,000 to $250,000 on Nov. 19, 2014; from $250,000 to $450,000 on Feb. 20, 2015; and from $450,000 to $650,000 on May 22, 2015, according to the complaint.
Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder says the agreement was authorized by municipal ordinance and payment was certified by Akron’s director of finance.
The law firm claims in its complaint that it consulted and communicated with the city regarding the Schismenos matter, conducting extensive document review and legal research in addition to providing legal advice.
The services were provided from September 2014 until January 2016, but the city stopped paying in February of 2015, according to the law firm.
Akron’s outstanding balance with Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder currently stands at $322,861.47 according to the lawsuit and several detailed, line-item invoices that accompanied the filing.
The law firm is represented in the case by Todd Raskin, one of its founding partners, as well as Joseph Nicholas Jr. and Robert Konstand.
Akron’s law department did not immediately respond Monday to a phone call requesting comment.