Thursday, July 17, 2014

Split Ohio Supreme Court Indefinitely Suspends Convicted Judge

Kathleen Mahoney has this report on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court today  indefinitely suspended the law license of Bridget M. McCafferty, formerly a  judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

In August 2011, McCafferty was  convicted on 10 counts of making false statements to federal law enforcement about  phone conversations she had with former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo and  local businessman Steve Pumper regarding cases in her courtroom. Federal  officials had intercepted more than 40,000 calls as part of a federal  investigation into countywide corruption.   After some counts were merged, the federal court sentenced McCafferty to  the maximum term of 14 months in prison with three years of supervised release,  150 hours of community service, and a $400 fine. Following her conviction, the  Supreme Court suspended McCafferty’s license to practice law on an interim  basis.

In a 4-3 decision today, the  court found that the former judge had violated multiple professional and  judicial conduct rules.

Justice William M. O’Neill, who  authored the court’s majority opinion, noted that McCafferty’s misuse of her  judicial position was not charged in the federal criminal complaint against the  judge, so that conduct was not part of the disciplinary case before the Supreme  Court.

In considering whether to disbar  McCafferty, Justice O’Neill explained that the Supreme Court has sometimes  determined that permanently prohibiting a judge from practicing law is  appropriate when the judge is convicted of a felony, but the court has not  always disbarred judges for dishonest conduct.

“Certainly McCafferty’s conduct  warrants a severe sanction,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “She was convicted on  multiple counts of lying to FBI agents about conversations with people who were  the subject of a county-wide corruption investigation. In addition, McCafferty  was deceptive about the nature of those conversations, most particularly that  those conversations included matters that had been before her in court.  Notwithstanding, the conduct that led to the criminal convictions and rule  violations occurred during a single impromptu conversation with FBI agents,  rather than as a pattern of premeditated criminal conduct. Thus, we agree with  the [Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline] that imposition of  the system’s most severe sanction is not warranted in this case.”

“But we also do not believe that the  appropriate sanction is a fixed-term suspension,” he continued. “Despite  McCafferty’s cooperative attitude during the disciplinary proceedings, we are  troubled by the contradiction between McCafferty’s assertion that she accepts  full responsibility for her actions and her statement that she believed that  she had answered the agents’ questions as truthfully as she could. She clings  to this claim, despite its utter implausibility in the face of the recorded  conversations. Thus, we determine that an indefinite suspension without credit  for time served [under the interim suspension] is the appropriate sanction for  her misconduct.”

McCafferty’s interim suspension  will continue until she completes the terms of her federal sentence. Her  supervised release will end on September 17, 2015, as long as she commits no  parole violations. Her indefinite suspension from practicing law will begin  after she is discharged from the federal court.

The majority opinion was joined  by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and Sharon L. Kennedy. Justice  Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Maureen  O’Connor and Justice Judith L. French.

The dissenters would have  disbarred McCafferty.

“I do not see how the majority  can square a sanction of a mere indefinite suspension with its statements that  ‘[t]his court has stated that judges are held to the highest possible standard  of ethical conduct,’” Justice Lanzinger wrote. In her view, the case deserved  the full measure of the court’s disciplinary authority.

“The majority focuses solely on  McCafferty’s conversation with FBI agents and paints her conduct as a one-time,  brief lapse in judgment,” Justice Lanzinger continued. “This narrow  characterization is simply untrue; McCafferty’s misconduct was more prolonged  and more egregious than the majority admits. Months before she ever spoke to  the FBI, McCafferty was swaying judicial outcomes for political associates and  giving special consideration to high-ranking politicians. There can be no  dispute that this conduct occurred. McCafferty’s criminal indictment outlined  her involvement with [then-Cuyahoga County Commissioner James] Dimora and  Russo, and she stipulated, at her disciplinary hearing, to engaging in the  conduct described in the indictment.”

Two of McCafferty’s disciplinary  rule violations relate to her involvement with Russo and Dimora and the abuse  of her judicial office, so that misconduct is part of the case before the  court, Justice Lanzinger contended.

“If the primary purposes of  judicial discipline are to protect the public, guarantee the evenhanded  administration of justice, and to bolster public confidence in the institution,  then nothing short of disbarment should be imposed in this case,” she  concluded.

2013-0939. Ohio  State Bar Assn. v. McCafferty, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3075.

(Mike Frisch)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2014/07/split-ohio-supreme-court-indefinitely-suspends-convicted-judge.html

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Comments

Bridget McCafferty betrayed the TRUST of SOCIETY - She should have been DISBARRED.

Posted by: Rita Zydonis | Jul 19, 2014 6:05:56 AM

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