ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners approved a contract for drug-testing equipment and supplies in 2010 that has come under scrutiny as the court system prepares to close the county’s Forensics Laboratory.
The documents, provided by the attorney representing Emmanuel de Leon, the director of the Forensic Lab and the county’s Crime Lab, show that the contract was forwarded to commissioners for their consideration on June 4, 2010, and approved during a June 23, 2010, meeting.
“(The) implication that Mr. de Leon purchased this machine without authority is false,” de Leon’s attorney, Jonathan Rosenbaum, wrote in an email Friday.
General Division Court Administrator Tim Lubbe has raised questions about the contract with Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Inc. for a V-Twin Analyzer, including whether it received a proper legal review and that it wasn’t approved by his office.
The contract was sent to the commissioners by the county’s former Chief Probation Officer Bart Hobart, who resigned from the job in June 2012.
The Lorain County Adult Probation Department is overseen by Lubbe and the county’s General Division judges.
In his 2010 letter to the commissioners, Hobart wrote that the machine is use at the time was being phased out and had been growing more expensive in recent years.
“We’ve been in a process and have evaluated a more cost-effective analyzer that will benefit the overall operation of the laboratory, court system and the department,” Hobart wrote.
Lubbe did not respond to messages Friday evening seeking comment on the commissioners’ approval of the purchase.
The contract being reviewed by Lubbe was signed by de Leon and is dated June 21, 2010, while the copy provided by Rosenbaum was signed by Commissioner Ted Kalo on June 23, 2010. The two contracts appear virtually identical, although each refers to different Siemens’ quote numbers.
County Administrator Jim Cordes said although he didn’t recall the correspondence from four years ago, he wasn’t surprised to learn that Hobart had forwarded it on for approval. He said the Probation Department sends items over for approval over from time to time.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes has said there are several aspects of the contract, including that it is subject to Illinois law, which lead him to believe no legal review was done before the contract was approved. Some of those issues could void the contract, Innes has said.
The county has spent $202,797.18 so far on the five-year contract with Seimens, although Lubbe wrote in an email to Cordes last week that the company had told the Probation Department there was still a balance of $139,000 on the contract and that the account was “in default.”
Lubbe has said he is still reviewing the contract and its financial implications as the judges shut down the Forensics Lab, where probationers are subjected to drug tests.
The decision to close the Forensics Lab, which was operated in the same space and with much the same staff as the county’s Crime Lab, was made public last week and Lubbe and Administrative Judge James Burge have described the move as a financial one.
In the meantime, county commissioners are working to figure out how they will be able to keep the Crime Lab, which handles fingerprint and drug analysis in criminal investigations, without the financial support of the Probation Department. The commissioners voted this week to put a property tax levy on the May ballot to better fund the Crime Lab.
Cordes had asked the commissioners last week to consider keeping on de Leon, the only person in county government with the qualifications to certify the labs results, for a month after the Forensics Lab closes, but the commissioners tabled the idea. De Leon has been on paid leave since Nov. 21, but has continued to work certifying lab results.
Cordes said he is looking into alternatives, including the possibility of outsourcing some of the Crime Lab’s work, in case de Leon ends up leaving the county payroll when the Forensics Lab closes Jan. 31.
Kalo said the Crime Lab remains vital to effective law enforcement in Lorain County.
“I don’t want to close the Crime Lab,” he said. “It has to stay usable and operational.”