Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Knuckleheads

Disciplinary charges have been filed by Ohio Disciplinary Counsel alleging misconduct by a Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge.

In one matter, he allegedly browbeat a defendant into pleading guilty

Respondent told Heard that if he exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and was convicted, Heard would be sentenced to “at least double, perhaps triple or more time. * * * And this Court, given your record, will run the record consecutively.”

Essentially, respondent threatened to punish Heard for exercising his right to a trial by promising to impose a prison sentence of at least 28 years—and possibly in excess of 42 years—if Heard was convicted after trial, as opposed to 14 years if he pled guilty.

While considering the judge's 14 year "offer"

At one point, respondent stated, “I don’t know what happened, they may have arrested  the wrong six-foot-five-inch guy, maybe the victim was confused. Who knows? Maybe the dog ate your homework, right? Anything is possible in today’s world.”

Respondent then told Heard and his family a story about two “knuckleheads” who took their case to trial after they rejected a similar plea deal that respondent offered to them.

Respondent said that the two “knuckleheads” were found guilty and “both got sentenced to 78 years [in prison].”

On appeal

Heard’s plea was vacated and the judgment was reversed and remanded, with instructions that the administrative judge assign the case to a different trial judge.

Heard was acquitted of all charges.

In a bench trial

While respondent’s questions for [witness]] J.C. only focused on the childhood fight and the April 2016 incident, respondent took the position of a biased advocate when questioning [defendant] W.S., interrogating him on matters, not only inadmissible, but wholly immaterial to the case.

Allegedly improper questioning is set out at length

During the trial, respondent also improperly questioned W.S. about his relationship with his parents, prior DUI convictions, and a felony charge for sexual imposition.

The conviction was reversed

In 2019, W.S. appealed his conviction in the Eighth District Court of Appeals, alleging that the trial court abused its discretion by considering inadmissible and prejudicial evidence and questioning him in a confrontational manner. State v. W.S., Eighth District Court of Appeals, Case No. CA-17-10XXXX. W.S. also alleged that his felonious assault conviction was based on insufficient evidence.

The Eighth District Court of Appeals agreed...

He is charged with improper comments in two other matters including

Hey, Michael, I don’t want to be a pawn in your game with your soon to be ex-wife. I don’t want to traumatize the children. I don’t want to be around your former wife. That’s not cool. We know that. Anybody knows that. Instead of getting in the car, go over there, roll your eyes, flip your hair, tell her to fuck herself, tell her you’re going to fuck her up.

And a letter on judicial stationary to a defendant acquitted in a jury trial he presided at

Viola attached respondent’s letter to the writ and wrote, “The federal judiciary has denied Petitioner’s post-conviction requests for relief, and no evidentiary hearing has ever been held, prompting Judge Daniel Gaul, who presided over the second trial, to take the extraordinary step of stating in writing that the Petitioner is innocent and wrongfully incarcerated, Exhibit A.”

Cleveland.com had a report on the fight matter

The victim, James Caraballo, got the better of Skerkavich during a junior-high fight a decade earlier, records show. Skerkavich threw a snowball at Caraballo when he recognized him that night, and the two fought. Caraballo went to the hospital the next day for treatment. Skerkavich was not hurt.

Skerkavich waived his right to have a jury hear his case and instead chose to allow Gaul to render a verdict. Caraballo testified during the two-day trial that Skerkavich was the aggressor and both punched and kicked him during the fight.
 
Skerkavich took the stand and testified that Caraballo charged him first and was the instigator. Gaul called Skerkavich back to the stand after his attorney and an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor finished questioning him.
 
Gaul did not ask any other witnesses who testified more than 15 questions, but peppered Skerkavich with 85 questions, the appeals court wrote. The prosecutor and Skerkavich’s defense attorney only asked Skerkavich a combined 92 questions, the court noted.

The judge was the subject of a Serial podcast entitled You've Got Some Gauls. "(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2021/12/disciplinary-charges-have-been-filed-by-ohio-disciplinary-counsel-alleging-misconduct-by-a-cuyahoga-county-judge-in-one-mat.html

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