When candidates run for municipal court, they often say that’s the most important court in the land because it’s the court where most people see justice at work — traffic tickets and housing matters — a court where the average citizens comes in contact with the judicial process.
But in a society where the divorce rate hovers around 50 percent, domestic relations court — which deals with divorces, child custody and child support — is perhaps more important. Lots of people end up there. And when you do, whether husband or wife, you want a judge who will fairly and impartially look at your situation and give an honest and fair ruling on who gets the kids, how much a parent pays for child support and who gets the divorce.
Which means this year’s Democratic primary for an open seat on the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court is an important race — even though the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided to skip endorsing in the race. The race pits Tonya R. Jones, a juvenile court magistrate, against Michael J. O’Shea.
Apparently candidate O’Shea forgot to read (or chose to ignore) the canons of ethics for judicial candidates when framing his campaign literature. Judges cannot make endorsement in any races. However, on a mailer sent by his campaign committee — which obviously was approved by the candidate — O’Shea uses the photos of the five sitting female jurists on the domestic relations bench without their permission, attempting to create the impression they all have endorsed him — when, in fact, none of them did, because they can’t — it’s against the rules.
One subliminal message of the piece — which maybe he thought would be picked up by male voters is — “Hey fellows, it’s all women on that court — what about a man for a change?”
Although the domestic relations court is now populated by all female judges, it’s interesting to note that the court has not had a black judge since the late Judge Perry B. Jackson moved up to the general division of the common pleas court in the ’60s. So O’Shea’s piece of literature further infers that a vote for him will keep it that way, since his opponent happens to be a black female. But his dirty tricks have not gone unnoticed.
The apparent abuse of the canons of ethics for candidates caused a letter of complaint to be sent by Administrative Judge Rosemary Grdina Gold to the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O’Connor, and to Phillip C. Richter, the executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission. (See letter below)
Apparently overlooking rules is not new to O’Shea. While serving as prosecutor and assistant law director in Rocky River, O’Shea was a member of the private Cleveland Yacht Club — a bastion of white society not particularly known for diversity — while at the same time he owed both the state and the IRS tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes. According to a story on WKYC in 2013, O’Shea said he paid the yacht club $300 a month in dues, plus an annual docking fee of $900 — which obviously was more important to him than his tax liability.
Tax records at that time further revealed that O’Shea owed the state of Ohio $36,874 in back taxes on which the state had filed tax liens on annually since 2006. But on the brighter side, he had cut his federal income tax debt from about $70,000 down to $30,000. We guess being in this kind of debt will allow O’Shea to have sympathy on those dead beat dads and moms who are late on their child support.
His opponent in the race, Tonya Jones, received a 3.0 rating on the online Cuyahoga County judicial rating service Judge4Yourself, while O’Shea got a 1.75 rating, among the lowest. The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association rated O’Shea “Not Recommended.”
Voters should chose for themselves, but if a candidate is bending the rules this much in his campaign, what do you expect of him if he were elected to the bench?
C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection and was recently appointed to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.