Want balance in court? Try electing new people to do the judging
Almost a score of judicial positions are on the November ballot in Cleveland, and most of the races see incumbents go unopposed.
Now, I can’t force people to run for public office, although I regret I can’t. I just wish judges had competition, because most who serve on the bench don’t deserve what amounts to a job they tend to hold for a long while.
Under the spotlight of the millennium, I say we ought to rethink judgeships. I’ll go one step farther: vote out anybody who’s running for re-election. None of them should get our votes.
Here are some of their names:
Richard Bell, Mark Majer, Maureen Clancy, Joan Synenberg, Deborah M. Turner and Kenneth Callahan. I would put Wanda Jones on this list, but I won’t for one reason: her opponent Kevin Kelley. He’s fed at the public trough too long.
I’ve tired of these career jurists. I’ve seen too many Corrigans, Russos and Gallaghers on the bench (or in the prosecutor’s office). Their work for the public good isn’t anything I’ll praise.
To put it another way, I look at incumbents as a problem, for they foster a malaise that gives us aggressive prosecutions and sentences that lack compassion.
No one wants a judge who refuses to look unfavorably at the ham-handed work of prosecutors or sends an inordinate number of my brethren to state penitentiaries for long stretches. Nobody wants a judge who lords over the courtroom as if it were his fiefdom.
Just like all public officials (and cops), judges work for us. They must keep their ears to the ground and understand their black robes aren’t holy garments. The black robe gives judges stature, which I’ll acknowledge; it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll decide with Solomonic wisdom.
I would argue those robes are tied too tightly in Cuyahoga County to a justice system that favors volume incarceration. I would also argue that those who wear those black robes are too white.
In a region with such a significant Black population, judgeships should reflect it. They don’t now, and they never have.
As I say this, I’ll paraphrase an old Richard Pryor joke: Go to court as a Black defendant in search of justice, and what you’ll find is “just us.”
I’ll not succeed in convincing people to vote these rascals out of office. For judges, we seem to prefer candidates whose names we recognize.
In the 15 races for Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, seven are uncontested. Nobody dares challenge a Russo, a Corrigan or a Gallagher, which is why these last names appear on ballots time after time after …
Knowing that few people will listen to me and just go ahead and vote for a Synenberg, I’ll offer a better suggestion: term limits.
We limit terms of lawmakers in the Ohio Legislature, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t treat Common Pleas judges the same way. After two terms, they ought to return to the private sector.
Maybe a full term off the bench will give these men and women clarity about their purpose.
We elect them to dispense justice, but they can’t handle that task if they’re worried somebody will label them soft on crime.
Tough-on-crime justice, however, isn’t necessarily fair justice. Regrettably, career jurists tend to ignore that point.