Social workers, mental health professionals and criminologists have for decades engaged in the inence imposed commensurate with the crime? Will this defendant be a repeat offender?
If it were possible to predict acts of violence, thousands of victims of domestic violence would be alive. If the courts or society could look into a person’s mind, Anthony Sowell would have been arrested long before he killed his 11th victim. Ariel Castro would have been in jail after he abducted his first victim. To the world Sowell and Castro were the quiet guys who lived next door. For much of his life, Lance Mason was the same. The only difference was that he went to topnotch schools, became a lawyer and held elective office. He also had a series of guardian angels and lucky breaks.
When the tragic saga of the former judge is complete, the names of Peggy J. Schmitz, Robert B. Fitzgerald and Patricia A. Wise will not be remembered. They were the hearing examiners who in March of 2017 conducted a hearing on behalf of the Ohio Supreme Court Board of Professional Conduct to determine whether Mason should keep his license to practice law. Mason’s disbarment proceedings were automatically prompted after he plead guilty to and was convicted of attempted felonious assault and a misdemeanor domestic violence in connection with the August 2014 attack on his wife Aisha Fraser.
In June of 2017 the panel rendered its decision. After carefully reviewing the evidence regarding Mason’s conduct, they recommended a permanent disbarment of Mason — the harshest finding that they could impose. In making its decision the panel voiced serious misgivings about Mason’s “dubious explanation for the behavior (the attack on his wife), failure to provide assurances that the behavior will not occur again, and less than heartfelt engagement in the redemptive process.”
They found that Mason’s promises to keep in contact with his daughters went unfulfilled and that “he managed only a few letters to — and could not say with certainty that the letters that he did write were delivered to his daughters.” His contact with his psychiatrist were “short-lived.” His sessions with his counselors were minimal at best. Mason never “walked the walk or talked the talk” of a man who was truly sorry for his actions.
The findings of the Supreme Court panel were accurate predictors of Mason’s future conduct, but nobody listened. Even the esteemed Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court gave Mason some slack. They reduced the findings of the panel and gave Mason an indefinite suspension — a step up from permanent disbarment. With an indefinite suspension, Mason could have at some point asked to get his license to practice law back rather than being prohibited from ever practicing law in Ohio again. Mason got a break.
Back in August of 2014, Mason initially stood accused of eight felony charges in connection with the brutal beating of his wife, in the presence of his children — crimes that had been committed almost a year to the day that he finally got to court for a final disposition. The attack included 20 punches, hair pulling, bites to the victim’s face and a broken orbital bone — the bone around her eye.
Admittedly, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge did not have the benefit of the findings made by the Supreme Court panel, but she had to have known severity of the attack on Aisha Fraser. She should have been aware of a fact that Mason later admitted at the Supreme Court hearing. After the initial attack on his wife, Mason went to his sister’s house with a gun and threatened suicide. The gun was easy to come by — he had an arsenal of weapons in his home including smoke bombs, a huge stash of ammunition and multiple weapons. Fudge had to have known that Aisha Fraser required several surgeries to help correct the injuries inflicted on her.
But Fudge used her bully pulpit — admittedly not written on congressional stationary — to recommend to then County Prosecutor Tim McGinty that Mason receive leniency. In her August 9, 2015 letter she said his conduct was a “bad mistake” and that “Lance accepts full responsibility for his actions and has assured me that something like this will never happen again.” The full impact of her letter cannot be fully determined, but ultimately, six felony charges were dropped and a plea to an attempted felonious assault and a misdemeanor domestic violence was accepted by the court. Mason was sentenced to 24 months. He only served nine. His lawyers, longtime friends, worked for free. The judge suspended the court costs. Mason got a major break.
Just over a year after Mason’s brief stint in jail and just over three years since the original acts of violence, the administration of Mayor Frank Jackson hired Mason. Mason got a major break obtaining a job that paid $45,000 a year.
The findings of the Supreme Court panel were a public record at that point, open for any prospective employer to see on the Ohio Supreme Court website. In a TV interview, immediately following the murder of Aisha Fraser, Mayor Jackson told reporters that Mason was the best qualified for the position. Washing his hands of the decision to hire Mason, Jackson said he had nothing to do with Mason’s employment at City Hall.
Even if, for the sake of argument, Mason was the best qualified to be the Director of Minority Business Affairs, what administrator would have hired such a controversial person without going up the chain of command? Jackson really wants us to believe that he had no idea that a former elected official, convicted of felony charges that received extensive media coverage, just happened to get a job at City Hall? And all this occurring at the heights of the #MeToo Movement. Mason’s guardian angels stepped in again.
Every year thousands of persons return from terms of incarceration. Cuyahoga County leads the state in the number of persons returning from prison. Having done their time in jail, formerly incarcerated persons are entitled to every opportunity to become viable parts of the work force. But they must earn that chance by demonstrating a commitment to changing their previous behavior. They must compete in the employment market place like every other person seeking a job. And they must also realize that their success or failure will reflect on the thousands of other deserving persons participating in re-entry programs. Mason and the people that hired him did no breaks for future participants of re-entry programs.
If Marcia Fudge and Frank Jackson were so sympathetic to Mason and wanted to get him a job, I’m sure they had enough clout to get Mason a job in the private sector. Mason had forfeited his right to work in the public sector.
Mason went from a judge to jail to City Hall, where he could continue his white-collar image. He didn’t hit rock bottom like many formerly incarcerated persons. The doors that had been opened for him throughout his career — from working in the county prosecutor’s office for the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones; to running her Cleveland congressional office; to a seat in the state legislature; to a seat on the Common Pleas Court — all secured with the help of Tubbs — came very easy for Mason. He always got a break.
The fact that Mason was hired by the City of Cleveland did not cause the death Aisha Fraser. A failure to make her ex-husband fully accountable for his prior conduct and adequately assess the predictors of his future conduct and a lot of lucky breaks contributed to her death.
Sadly, pundits like me and the many others who have written about Aisha Fraser’s death are merely Monday morning quarterbacks. We can say what coulda, woulda, shoulda happened in determining future acts of violence by Lance Mason. The Ohio Supreme Court Board of Examiners’ report did a pretty good job of identifying those predictors and determining that Mason was a likely repeat offender. Why didn’t anyone listen?
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, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and treasurer of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.