Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chicago Criminal lawyer comments on a judge being pushed aside

Wow! As a Chicago Criminal lawyer I’ve certainly see judges recuse themselves. A recusal occurs when a judge decides not to hear a case. This may occur if the judge is related to one of the parties, I had a judge recuse herself because she was the cousin of a Chicago Police Officer in a case where I answered ready for trial, or perhaps if the judge knows one of the parties and doesn’t want to be perceived as unfair to either side.

It’s not that uncommon and judges usually go out of their way to make sure there is no hint of impropriety. Unfortunately, sometimes a lawyer may have to ask a judge to recuse themselves because the lawyer can’t or doesn’t want to ask for a Substitution of Judge (SOJ). Sometimes, a judge won’t comply and it goes much, much further than it should.

April 23, Cleveland, OH
The Ohio Supreme Court has confirmed the acting chief justice removed Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold from hearing the Anthony Sowell case.
Defense attorney Rufus Sims had argued she appeared to be unfair to him and Sowell.

Thursday Saffold filed papers saying she would be fair but in a court filing late Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered a new judge.

Defense attorneys went to the state Supreme Court after Judge Saffold refused to recuse herself from the case.

The decision from Acting Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer came down later Thursday.

It reads:
The defendant Anthony E. Sowell has been charged with the aggravated murders of eleven women in an 85-count indictment. Sowell faces the possible imposition of the death penalty, and the case has drawn extensive media coverage.

The issue in this affidavit-of-disqualification proceeding is whether the trial judge presiding over Sowell's case, Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, should be disqualified from further proceedings based on an appearance of impropriety. During his lengthy tenure on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and the Eighth District Court of Appeals, the venerable Judge John V. Corrigan frequently shared the following advice with his judicial colleagues: When the case becomes about the judge rather than the facts of the case and the law, it is time for the judge to step aside. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that Judge Saffold should be removed from the underlying case to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

John P. Parker and Rufus Sims, co-counsel for defendant, have filed an affidavit with the Clerk of this Court under R.C. 2701.03 seeking the disqualification of Judge Saffold from acting on any further proceedings in Sowell's case, No. CR-530885. Affiants allege that Judge Saffold should be disqualified to avoid the appearance of impropriety and to ensure the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial system. They assert three grounds for disqualifying Judge Saffold. First, affiants allege that Judge Saffold has engaged in improper ex parte communications with Judge Timothy McGinty, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the reporter's attorney. Second, they allege that the judge's personal and office email accounts were the sources of a newspaper article published in the Plain Dealer on March 26, 2010. According to affiants, someone using the moniker "lawmiss" posted derogatory comments on the Plain Dealer's website about attorney Sims and defendant Sowell. Third, affiants allege that the judge has a financial interest in the underlying case because the judge and her daughter have sued the Plain Dealer over the disclosure of the judge's email account as the alleged sources for the March 26 article.
It’s true, regardless of the outcome of Mr. Sims’ case, this case will be known as the case about the judge and not the accused.

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