Corruption and candy lists
If I was on Pamela Barker's "candy list," it didn't do me any good.
Barker is a common pleas judge up here. She was appointed in 2011, got elected in her own right in 2012, and again in 2014. I had the second trial in her room, an aggravated murder case. I had some trepidation about trying that significant a case in front of a judge whose only prior judicial experience was working as a magistrate in a mayor's court. She couldn't have been better. I can think of maybe five judges out of the 34 up here who I've never heard any lawyer say a bad thing about. She's one of the five. She got a perfect 4.0 from the four bar groups that rate judges up here during election time.
She's also apparently corrupt, at least according to County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.
Each of the judges spends two weeks in the arraignment room. Barker spent ten weeks there this year, most of it subbing for other judges. An arraignment judge basically does nothing more than accept not guilty pleas, set a bond (almost invariably one recommended by the bond commissioner), and appoint counsel if the defendant is indigent. Barker's corruption, in McGinty's mind, is that she volunteered for duty to serve in the arraignment room so that she could hand out assignments to criminal defense attorneys in anticipation of, or reward for, campaign contributions.
This isn't the first time this issue has arisen. I remember about thirty years ago getting a call from a judge's bailiff, whose boss was in the midst of a tough campaign, that if I came over with a check for $75, I'd get an assignment. I didn't pony up, didn't get an assignment, the Plain Dealer found out about the scheme and did a big story on it, and the judge lost. But the corruption angle -- the idea that lawyers are "paying to play" -- has been pursued relentless by McGinty, even when he was a judge. And he's pursuing it again:
In a sweeping public records request to the court Tuesday, McGinty demanded two years' worth of documents, including emails between judges, bailiffs and court administrators regarding scheduling of arraignment room duty and what he termed "Candy Lists" that judges keep and share with attorneys they prefer to be assigned to their cases.
About the best that can be said for Barker is that she showed poor judgment here, but that's probably the worst that can be said, too. Nobody is contending that Barker appointed a bunch of clowns to represent indigent defendants. To be sure, there's some favoritism shown to certain defense attorneys, which may or may not be linked to their willingness to contribute, but at least for the major cases, they're all very good attorneys.
And there's another point to be made here. Whatever money Barker got from defense lawyers giving her $100 checks to eat cold food at a fundraiser, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the contributions received by her opponent, Sherrie Miday; campaign records filed before election day showed Miday spent $130,000, and some reasonable guesstimates are that when the final records are posted, the figure could be as high as five times that.
The notion of lawyers contributing to judge's campaigns with the expectation of nothing in return is about as naïve as the notion of anyone contributing to anyone's campaign with the expectation of getting nothing in return. In 2000, justices seeking positions on the Ohio Supreme Court spent about $3 million. That figure doubled for the 2002 and 2004 races, primarily because of the huge influx of money from insurance companies seeking to reverse several key Supreme Court decisions. As I pointed out in a post six years ago, that proved to be money well spent: the same legislative "tort reforms" that the high court had struck down three times in the previous decade were upheld in 2008.
If McGinty is serious about judicial corruption, there's some emails he could go looking for.
Oh, by the way, in the interests of full disclosure: I gave Barker three separate contributions totaling $550, the most I've ever given to a judge in an election cycle. She did assign me to a case, but I told her to appoint someone else because I'm not on the assigned counsel list anymore. So I didn't get anything for my money except the satisfaction of seeing an excellent judge keep her seat.
If anyone wants my emails on that, I'll look and see if I have any.