Career in public service more than a job to Alejandro Cortes ’05
Public service isn’t just a job to Alejandro Cortes ’05: it’s a career he’s been preparing for since law school. Just six years after graduation, he took on one of the biggest challenges a young lawyer can face, representing the City of Cleveland in matters involving police, fire, E.M.S, and homeland security forces as an assistant director of law.
“After spending six years as a staff attorney at a court, I was ready for the next challenge in my career. In an entity like the City of Cleveland, there aren’t a lot of resources to go around, so it was going to be baptism by fire. Yes, there would be supervision, obviously, but your cases are your cases and you have to run with them, which was really appealing to me because I wanted to get that immediate experience,” he said.
As part of his responsibilities in city’s public safety division, Cortes litigated a wide variety of cases dealing with the area’s public safety forces, including police, fire, E.M.S, corrections, animal control, and homeland security.
“Primarily I worked on 1983 litigation, which is police misconduct, and other governmental wrong-doings,” he explained. “In addition to 1983 work, I had a few wrongful death cases involving police and E.M.S. dispatchers, and I had simpler cases too, like rear-end motor vehicle accident cases involving police cruisers, fire trucks, and ambulances. It really ran the gambit from legally complex, factually intensive 1983 lawsuits to a replevin case over a $250 handgun.”
Cortes was also responsible for handling labor arbitrations between the city and emergency service organizations as well, representing the city’s interests in those disputes.
“About 40 percent of what I did was labor arbitration with the City of Cleveland that affected our safety forces,” he said. “It was primarily police and fire, so if they were disciplined, because they are all unionized, they had the opportunity to present grievances and then it would ultimately culminate in arbitration if it wasn’t resolved. I defended the city in those cases against the union and its counsel.”
Cortes said he felt prepared to handle the highly important work he did during his time with the city from the start thanks to the sound legal foundation he built for himself by serving on Judge Carolyn B. Friedland’s staff at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas just after law school.
“It was a wonderful experience. I would recommend it to any graduating student. Law school prepared me to be a lawyer in terms of how to approach the practice of law, but to see the nuts and bolts of day-to-day litigation up close and personal as a staff attorney was really great. I saw amazing lawyers, I saw some really bad lawyers and it helped me in my own practice,” he said.
Cortes takes a great deal of pride in the fact that he was able to successfully represent and work with men and women who so often put their lives on the line to protect the people of Cleveland.
“Thinking about my time with the city, I met a lot of wonderful police officers in the time that I was there. And given the current climate, having dealt with them through the various cases I handled, when you sit down and talk with them and you hear their perspective, it gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for what police officers do,” he said.
“Not that police officers can’t do anything wrong,” he added, “but I understand when I see a situation on the news, there’s something else to the story – we don’t know why it happened, or how the facts played out. And, for me, I felt a great sense of accomplishment defending these people in court because many times they really didn’t do anything wrong, it was a decision that was thrust upon them by a series of events, and they had to make a decision; either they go home that night or they don’t. They are generally good people; they just got caught up in a bad situation.”
Cortes recently began a new job as associate general counsel at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. He said he plans to use the skills and experience he gained while working for the city’s public safety division to succeed in his new position as he begins the next chapter in his career.