Ohio State Rep Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland)
From the Metro Desk of The Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com and Cleveland Urban News.com (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)
State Rep. Bill Patmon (D-10), with lobbying by grassroots groups including The Imperial Women, yesterday introduced a bill that requires Ohio trial court judges in a multi-judge system such as Cleveland Municipal Court and the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas with more than one judge to be assigned to cases by random draw. House Bill 216 would also require that when a new judge is appointed or elected to those courts the cases of the judge that he or she replaced must be distributed equitably among the remaining judges by the administrative judge of that court, and also by random draw, a process where the selection is at random via computer or otherwise, and not via a handpicking process.
"Cases in a multi-judge municipal or county court or a multi-judge general, domestic relations, or juvenile division of a court of common pleas shall be randomly assigned to judges of the court or division through an objective and impartial system that ensures the equitable distribution of cases between or among the judges of the court or division," the proposed legislation reads in relevant part.
A Cleveland Democrat and former city councilman who lost a bid for mayor against Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in 2009, Patmon is elated about the bill and said that it is long overdue.
"Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said, 'let justice reign down like a river," the lawmaker said. "Justice should be blind so let's start the hearings in committee to push this bill into law."
Roz McAllister, a member of the Imperial Women and the leader of Ohio Family Rights who was on board at the onset when others were reluctant to speak out, was also overjoyed.
"Justice is coming," she said.
HB 216 would become state law if it passes committee and the House and Senate, and is signed by Gov. John Kasich, or if he vetoes it and that veto is overridden by the legislature.
Patmon said that the bill is needed to ensure fair treatment to Ohioans that encounter the courts, either via civil, criminal or other measures where it pertains to municipal courts that hear traffic cases and civil suits with damages under $15 thousand, and common pleas courts that hear, among other matters, felony criminal cases and civil cases, juvenile courts, and domestic relations courts in Ohio.It pertains also to reassignment of cases since a reassignment is an assignment, though cases refiled would be returned to the original judge assigned initially by random draw and cases involving the same parties and relevant issues and circumstances can still qualify to go to a single judge through a process called consolidation.
If it becomes law HB 216 would stop Cleveland Municipal Presiding and Administrative Judge Ron Adrine from personally assigning cases to judges like Cleveland Judge Lynn McLaughlin Murray, who is accused of taking police and other cases arbitrarily in exchange for endorsements and then harassing Black defendants maliciously prosecuted by Cleveland Law Director Robert Triozzi for political reasons. And Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Presiding and Administrative Judge Nancy Fuerst would no longer be permitted to handpick judges as she did in the case of Rebecca Whitby, 25, who was convicted of one count of assault on a police officer and resisting arrest after Cleveland Police allegedly beat her and called her a nigger, and after Fuerst handpicked Cuyahoga County Judge Daniel Gaul to hear it where he refused to let the jury hear the word "nigger."
Gaul sentenced Whitby to prison March 8 for six months but released her last week following pressure from community activists.The case is currently on appeal.
The Whitby family did not return phone calls seeking comment but community activists had a lot to say.
"Judge Gaul was handpicked to disregard the law and railroad a conviction against that young innocent Black woman and he was chosen because he was already on probation himself for ethical violations, " said Community Activist Ada Averyhart. "We thank Representative Patmon from the bottom of our hearts and we urge Black and other leaders to help him get that bill through."
Frances Caldwell, a member of the Imperial Women and the executive director of the up and coming renewed African-American Museum of Cleveland, agreed.
"The bill is timely and necessary for fair and constitutional judicial proceedings," she said.
Betty Brown, also a member of the Imperial Women, said that she wants the bill amended for random draw assignments of judges on particular cases that replace those in single court systems like Shaker Hts, Lyndhurst and Berea Municipal Courts where activists say corruption and other malfeasance are allegedly rampant.
"In my opinion their judicial replacements on cases where they are either removed for bias or conflict or recuse themselves should be drawn from a hat too for fair play," said Brown.
Averyhart went further saying that the bill should be amended to provide for punishment for judges that violate the law.
"Judges should be held to the same standard that they hold the people that come before them to including prosecution and possible jail time or prison for violating the law," said Averyhart, a member of the Carl Stokes Brigade and a longtime community activist.