Cuyahoga County

Keep politics and judicial fundraising out of courtrooms: Timothy J. McGinty (opinion)

12/21/2014

The judges of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and their bailiffs have steered $100 million of work to the private attorneys of their choice over the past two decades. The only control over this huge expenditure of tax dollars is a rule that limits a judge's "assignment privileges" to two out of every 68 weeks.

Obviously this is not working. One judge just spent 10 weeks in the arraignment room during her tough re-election and assigned more attorneys than she normally would in a full six-year term.

Our system has proven ripe for corruption. In each decade for the past 40 years, a Cuyahoga County judge or a bailiff has been caught exploiting the system for political or financial gain. Each scandal evokes calls for an expert study and recommendations for reform. The beneficiaries of the patronage then stall and nitpick details of the latest reform proposal. It goes nowhere, memories fade and then history repeats itself with the next cycle of scandal. We recently had two judges sent to federal prison who also used this system for personal and political gain.

When I resigned from the bench to run for prosecutor, I promised to do everything possible to protect our county from yet another Jimmy Dimora-Frank Russo style patronage scandal by nipping cronyism and corrupt practices in the bud. I promised to transform our criminal justice system from a culture of secrecy to one of transparency where all public officials and their agencies are accountable to the citizens. There would be no sacred cows.

The performance measures we have compiled for the prosecutor's website have raised some very disturbing questions about how effectively and fairly some defendants are treated. All of us should strive to protect the rights of indigent defendants to timely appointment of an uncompromised lawyer. By using statistics to monitor our performance and adopting proven best practices, we can improve the quality of the justice we deliver.

Read the rest of Prosecutor McGinty's op-ed on Cleveland.com.