Cuyahoga ex-judge McCafferty isn't disbarred for life

There was never a trial for former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo because he entered a plea agreement in the Cuyahoga County corruption scandal, then testified against others. He is now in prison for 21 years.

There was an epic trial for former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, one that lasted over a two-and-a-half-month span in U.S. District Court in Akron.

It ended with him being convicted and sentenced to almost 28 years in prison. He was in prison nearby but was transferred to federal prison in Victorville, California a few months ago for unknown reasons.

But before there was a Dimora trial, two Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judges were put on trial for their parts in the Cuyahoga County corruption probe. One was Judge Steven Terry and the other was Judge Bridget McCafferty. McCafferty was convicted of lying to FBI agents. Terry was also found guilty and sentenced to prison.

McCafferty's trial was in August 2011, six months before Dimora's trial began. For McCafferty, she was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi to 14 months in federal prison in Alderson, affectionately known as "Camp Cupcake." It's where Martha Stewart served her prison term.

McCafferty looked completely shocked when the jury found her guilty and just a little bit shocked when she was sentenced to prison instead of probation.

Today the Ohio Supreme Court indefinitely suspended McCafferty's law license.

But it wasn't a unanimous decision. And I'm not surprised at that. Voting for indefinite suspension were Justice William O'Neill, 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. They wanted McCafferty disbarred.

The Supreme Court released its 4-3 opinion to suspend her license instead of disbarring her and preventing her from practicing law ever again in Ohio.

Justices favoring disbarment cited her behavior and relationships with Russo and Dimora.

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 a release, Lanzinger spoke for the dissenters.

"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."

I covered her trial, as well as Terry's trial and Dimora's trial. All three shared one trait in common -- all staunchly and freely maintained their innocence. McCafferty went through the trial convinced she was going to be found not guilty and she often spoke to people outside the courtroom that she wasn't worried because she was innocent.

Terry just sternly maintained he did nothing wrong and Dimora said he never did anything illegal.

They were all wrong.

Follow WKYC's Kim Wendel on Twitter @KimWendel


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment