Former Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty
By Kathy Wray Coleman, Editor and Investigative Journalist of the Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)
A former Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge who was found guilty earlier this year of 10 counts of lying to the FBI in conjunction with a federal corruption probe of a host of Cuyahoga County officials, including former county commissioner Jimmy Dimora and former county auditor Frank Russo, was sentenced on Tue. to 14 months in a federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi of Akron.
Federal prosecutors told jurors during Bridget McCafferty's trial in March that she lied to FBI agents when they came snooping at her home on whether she was involved in case fixing for Russo and Dimora, a once popular duo that essentially ran the county's now embattled Democratic Party.
Dimora stepped down in 2009 as chairperson of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. He and Russo's jobs as commissioner and auditor respectively were abolished in Jan after the voter adopted Issue 6 was implemented with a county executive, now Ed Fitzgerald, and an 11-member County Council. They replace the three- member Board of Commissioners, and the elected positions of county engineer, treasurer, auditor, recorder, coroner, sheriff and clerk of courts, though Sheriff Bob Reid and Clerk of Courts Gerald Fuerst were retained by Ed Fitzgerald on an at will basis.
Russo, out on bond until he finishes snitching on other culpable county Democrats, pleaded guilty Sept 16 of last year to corruption related charges and testified against the former judge, hoping to reduce his potential 21 year sentence. Dimora, who faces some 26 counts of corruption related charges, has not yet been tried, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including charges that he is a racketeer who ran the county's Democratic Party and the commissioner's office like the mob.
McCafferty, 45, of Westlake was first elected to the bench at age 32 and after some 12 years on the bench lost a reelection bid in Nov. to Republican Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Astrab.
"I was disappointed with the verdict and we plan to appeal," McCafferty attorney Michael Murray told reporters outside of the courthouse after her convictions.
The disgraced former judge, who because of her community status was allowed to self report to prison unlike the typical Black who is handcuffed and led away at sentencing if prison is imposed, faced five years on each of the 10 counts of lying to investigators for a total of 50 potential years in prison, but federal guidelines called for a substantial lesser term.
McCafferty, like Russo and Dimora, was once a rising star in the county's Democratic Party, at least until the FBI and IRS came knocking.
The personable former judge did not take the stand during the five day trial where jurors deliberated for four hours before reaching a verdict. At that time she was the second person to be convicted of corruption related crimes as more than 50 people, including Russo previously, have now pleaded guilty to corruption related activity.
Former Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry was convicted June 13 by a a federal court jury in Akron of allegedly fixing a single foreclosure case for Russo. The jury found him guilty of two counts of mail fraud for mailing the foreclosure decision and one count of accepting gifts around Russo's campaign help for his election bid. Terry, 53, who was appointed to the bench in 2007 by outgoing Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and won election in 2008, awaits sentencing with members of the Black community watching to see if his Blackness will dictate its outcome. He resigned his judgeship immediately after the convictions.
Black males of Cuyahoga County are disproportionately prosecuted and sentenced, according to research orchestrated by the Cleveland NAACP that county prosecutor Bill Mason has acknowledged.
Like McCaffterty, Terry says he is innocent, and will appeal.
The ruckus with McCafferty and Terry began when, on July 28, 2008, FBI and IRS agents raided the homes and offices of Dimora and Russo, and their judicial chambers were raided too. McCafferty's former bailiff testified at trial that she seemed nervous about it.
Russo, who testified against Terry at his trial in June, and said that he, as a former county auditor and previous big wig with the county Democratic party, allegedly knows 10 more judges that have acted improperly, said under oath at McCafferty's trial that he still sees her as a friend and that she took no bribes to his personal knowledge. His damning testimony, however, was that he discussed case fixing with the judge, testimony supported by recorded FBI conversations, prosecutors said at trial after playing the secret wire taps.
Reaction to the verdict in the Black community was mixed, though it was clear that many Blacks question the fairness of the legal system.
"She is nice and was singled out unlike the other judges and the Republicans are behind this, which is why everybody prosecuted is a Democrat," said Community Activist Ada Averyhart.
But some area criminal defense attorneys like Attorney Wayne L. Kerek, an attorney of 25 years, say McCafferty was personable off the bench, but hard on crime and hard on Blacks and other people while on it.
Community activists are now asking to know who the other 10 judges that Russo allegedly has the goods on are and what the more than one thousand hours of FBI recordings reveal about McCaffterty and the 34 judges of the general division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, and they want answers.
"We need a court watch," said Averyhart.
Journalist and Community Activist Kathy Wray Coleman can be reached at 216-932-3114 and firstname.lastname@example.org.