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Speedy justice

bars inmate.jpg

Whatever else may be said about Lonnie Donaldson, he's really screwing up the statistics for Judge Brian Corrigan, Assistant County Prosecutor Blaise Thomas, and defense attorney Jim McDonnell.

Donaldson was charged with capital murder back in October 2007.  The pretrial proceedings normally attendant to death penalty cases ensued, and it took over two years for the case to finally go to trial.  A week into that, the judge declared a mistrial.  From there things went all to hell:  new attorneys were appointed, the original judge recused herself, the new attorneys asserted the same death penalty motions:  a "motion to recognize mercy as a mitigating factor," a "motion to avoid coercive practices during mitigation phase deliberations," and a "motion to dismiss death penalty specifications due to constitutional and international law violations" being only a few of the pleadings typically filed when the client's life is on the line.  Donaldson got into the act, too, asking that his lawyers be removed (they were, and a new pair selected, with yet another bevy of motions following), and filing a pro se petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District Court alleging that his right against double jeopardy was violated by the original judge's declaration of the mistrial.  The common pleas court's docket entry of August 28, 2012, indicates that the 6th Circuit accepted an appeal on the habeas case, so all state court proceedings were stayed.  In February, the State deleted the death penalty specs.  But the case is still pending, and today, Lonnie Donaldson will spend his 2,117th day sitting in the Cuyahoga County jail awaiting trial.

We know that because County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who took office in November, has a link in the Prosecutor's website to those stats.  It's a tab labeled "performance," and if you click on it, you'll find a "performance dashboard":   a list of the "100 slowest inmates. "  We're not talking foot speed here:  we're talking the length of time they've languished in the county lockup.

Donaldson leads the pack, by factor of three, but there are 16 other defendants who've spent over a year in jail.  The "slowest 100 inmates" list also gives us the name of the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney handling the case; Darliel B. Orr, inmate number seven on the list, is represented by "Se, Pro."  (I've known Se for quite some time, and he has indeed earned quite a reputation for lethargy within the legal community.)  Of course Thomas, Corrigan, and McDonnell -- the prosecutor, judge, and defense attorney, respectively, on the Donaldson case -- take the biggest hit.  And that's re-emphasized by McGinty's "dashboard," because it also offers the reader the opportunity of sorting the results by judge, prosecutor, and defense counsel.  Guess who have the biggest numbers there?

The purpose of this isn't entirely clear at first glance.  McGinty ties this in to dollars, figuring that each inmate costs the county $100 a day; according to those figures, the 100 slowest inmates have cost the county taxpayers almost $3 million so far this year.

But so what?  If the point of all this is to get the shame the players in the justice system into processing cases more efficiently, as the Donaldson case shows, sometimes the players don't have any control over that.  Sure, there are experienced lawyers who can give tell you about judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys who don't carry their weight, but the names of Corrigan, Thomas, and McDonnell aren't going to come up in that conversation.

What it is, of course, is an indication of McGinty's pursuit of making the criminal justice system more efficient, a cause he has championed in the twenty years he spent as a common pleas judge before assuming the reins of prosecutor.   And appreciation for nuance has never been McGinty's long suit.  His has always been a take-no-prisoners approach; his relationship with his fellow judges was something far short of collegial, given that he's been been willing, even eager at times, to label those who've opposed his efforts as indolent and even corrupt. 

That's not to suggest he doesn't have a point.  He was almost solely responsible for the termination of the police department's "catch and release" policy, under which suspects, even some who were arrested for serious crimes, were straight-released from jail; since there was no pending case against them, there was no speedy trial issue, and the grand jury could take its good old time indicting them.  (During which period, of course, the suspects often committed other crimes.)  Since that policy ended, the average time from arrest to indictment in this county has decreased by 50%. 

And anyone who's spent any time in the criminal justice system is certainly not going to suggest that it's operating at peak efficiency.  There's much more to be done.  The problem is that McGinty has given scant evidence in his career that his concern with efficiency in the justice system is leavened with a similar concern that the system produce fair results.  But that's a case of biography as destiny:  McGinty was a hard-nosed prosecutor, and a good one, and that's an attitude he took with him to the bench, and beyond.

At any rate, the subject of efficiency has come up again, with the release of the Steelman report, a look at the indigent defense system in Cuyahoga County.  We'll discuss that in more detail in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, with some trepidation, I decided to check the performance dashboard to see just how much the county taxpayers have been penalized by my slothfulness.  Turns out I'm not even on the list.

That Se guy is, though; his tab sits at $69,500 and counting.  Somebody ought to have a talk with him and get him moving.


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