Sunday, December 29, 2013

By Editor Kathy Wray Coleman: Exclusive interview with Judge Angela Stokes's attorney on her response to bar complaint by Ohio Supreme Court Office of Disciplinary Counsel, her attorney denies all allegations, Black elected officials comment, community activists allege racism, sexism against Stokes

Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Angela Stokes 

By Kathy Wray Coleman, Publisher, Editor-n-Chief,
Cleveland Urban News. Com and The Cleveland Urban News.Com Blog,
Ohio's Most Read Online Black Newspaper and Newspaper Blog 
Kathy Wray Coleman is  a community activist and 20 year investigative journalist who trained for 17 years at the Call and Post Newspaper, Ohio's Black press with print newspapers in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. The Call and Post is published by international boxing promoter Don King

Stokes Attorney Richard Alkire

CLEVELAND, Ohio-Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Angela Stokes, through her attorneys,  has filed a 41-page response to a 49 page complaint filed earlier this month by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court. And  in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Cleveland Urban News.Com, Ohio's most read digital Black newspaper, Stokes attorney said during that interview, and in the response he filed on his client's behalf with the Ohio Supreme Court, that the bar complaint at issue lacks merit. He said that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, at best.

The disciplinary complaint alleges that Judge Angela Stokes, 60 and elected to the Cleveland Municipal Court bench in 1995, utilizes too many court resources, and that she has mistreated court personnel, attorneys, and defendants in her role as a judge in the 13-judge majority Black Cleveland Municipal Court. (Editor's note: Judge Ray Pianca is among the 13 judges but operates a separate housing court).

None of the allegations in the complaint have any serious validity, the attorney said. And neither, he added, do they require discipline by the state's high court against Stokes, particularly since his client has not violated either the Ohio Judicial Code of Conduct, or the Ohio Lawyer's Professional Code of Responsibility, the assessment instruments for determining the level of discipline against a judge or attorney licensed in Ohio, if any. They do not meet the threshold required to generate the media hype, he said.

"Some of the allegations were previously dismissed," said Stokes attorney Richard Alkire during a half hour long interview with Cleveland Urban News.Com.

An attorney out of Independence, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, Alkire made it clear that Stokes is getting hit with previously dismissed claims, many that should be time barred, and he laid a foundation for the perception of bias by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an arm of the Ohio Supreme Court led by Office of Disciplinary Counsel Scott Drexel. 

Alkire filed his skillfully written response three weeks ago,  along with his law partner Dean Nieding, and argued, among a host of other defenses, that retrying claims of a disciplinary nature against his client that have previously been addressed and dismissed in the same forum is unfair.

But Alkire said that he expects the Ohio Supreme Court will be fair to his client.

Alkire told Cleveland Urban News.Com that some of the claims date back 15 years, and that the dismissed claims in unrelated proceedings before the Office of Disciplinary Counsel that ended in her favor should not have been included. He said that Stokes's current disciplinary case should be treated like lawsuits subject to dismissal rules and procedures under the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, some of those rules of which preclude the re-filing of a claims because they have been previously heard or dismissed with prejudice, a legal termed dubbed res judicata.

Res judicata precludes a party  to a lawsuit from re-litigating claims already adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction, which should not be confused with the right to refile cases dismissed without prejudice within a year in Ohio and cases where the court had no jurisdiction or authority to hear the matter, among other examples.

Alkire downplayed the recommendation for Stokes to undergo a mental exam as overreaching since the Office of Disciplinary Counsel does not have licensed mental health professionals to justify such a bold and unorthodox recommendation. And he said he does not know why special counsel was assigned to Stokes' disciplinary case on behalf of that office since no bias or conflict has been raised.

Asked if having more than 30 different chief bailiffs is a reflection on Judge Stokes' judgement, Alkire said that that figure is a myth, but would not give an actual number. He said that his client  has the authority to hire and fire her chief bailiffs at will per the applicable rules of the Cleveland Municipal Court, which is led by Chief Judge Ron Adrine, who is Black, as is Stokes.

He said that Judge Stokes  is good people.

"I have the greatest respect for her," Alkire said. 

Judge Adrine is both the presiding and administrative judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court, and he is also the impetus behind the complaint, sources say, coupled with efforts by White folks to take over the largely Black court to merge it into the largely White Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas , a general division court. That court, which hears felonies and civil cases with damages sought in excess of $15,000, among other claims, is led by chief Judge Nancy Fuerst and has 34 judge seats, only three of those seats held by Blacks, namely judges Lance Mason, Shirley Strickland-Saffold and Cassandra Collier-Williams, all three Democrats like Fuerst and most of them on that bench. 

An Ohio municipal court judge, including Stokes, hears misdemeanors, traffic citations and civil suits that seek damages at or below $15,000

A three-member review board has been established to begin combing through a mountain of data around the disciplinary complaint against Stokes, some of it nuisance data to beef up the complaint, Alkire said.

The now infamous complaint , following review by the three member bar committee, will ultimately be determined by the Ohio Supreme Court, a seven-member majority White and largely Republican court, one led by Republican Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.

O'Connor is a former one-term lieutenant governor who served along side of  two-term former Ohio Republican Gov Bob Taft before winning a seat on  the state's high court in 2003 . She won election to the chief justice seat in 2011.

Stokes response to the complaint also says that since at least one of the claims against her, which is among those filed by a list of people, was the subject of a denial of an affidavit of prejudice for potential removal from a case by Presiding Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Presiding Judge Nancy Fuerst, it should not be re-lived in the current controversy. Her counsel agreed though that case law is specific in giving sole jurisdiction to the Ohio Supreme Court to discipline attorneys and judges, but he said that he believes that Fuerst's denial of the affidavit of prejudice should carry some weight. (Editor's note: Under state law (Ohio Revised Code 2701.031) the presiding judge of the county common pleas court, which in Cuyahoga County is Judge Fuerst,  decides if municipal court judges should be disqualified from hearing cases pursuant to the filing in the municipal court at hand of what is called an affidavit of prejudice or disqualification. It must be filed seven days before the next hearing in the case, if a hearing by the judge accused of prejudice or conflict has been scheduled. If filed timely and otherwise accepted for filing by the municipal clerk, all proceedings must be put on hold by the judge at issue, under state law, until Fuerst rules on the affidavit).

"It should have some merit," said Alkire. He stopped short of calling the proceedings by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel racist and sexist, though at least one Black elected official of Cleveland said they could likely be marred by racism and sexism, and another said that part of the problem is that Stokes, a Black Democrat, sometimes goes against the grain for what she believes in.

"Going back 15 years, that's a long time to go back, and  it could be racism and sexism," said Cleveland Ward 6 Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell.

"Judge Stokes independence is the hallmark of her family, whether we are talking about the first African-American mayor of a major American city such as Cleveland or the first African-American congressman from Ohio," said state Rep Bill Patmon (D-10), a Cleveland Democrat.  "And I think we have seen judges do a lot worse than what Angela Stokes is accused of doing."

Stokes comes from a family of Democrats and is  a daughter of retired U.S Rep. Louis Stokes of Shaker Heights, the first Black elected to Congress from Ohio. And she is the niece of the late Carl B. Stokes, who became the first Black mayor of a major American city when voters elected him mayor of the city of Cleveland in 1967. Then the city was majority White, but now the city of some 400,000 people is roughly 58 percent Black, and is led by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who is also Black.

A local community activist said that he believes the judge is a victim of racism, sexism and outright bias.

"It's a malicious vendetta, prejudice, racism and sexism, and that is why they are going back 15 years in a prejudicial manner against Judge Stokes, who is Black and female," said Black on Black Crime Vice President Al Porter.

Porter said the judge is being crucified unlike White male judges.(