Saturday, January 2, 2010
Tough Judge, Sleeping Jurors
Kathleen Ann Sutula, of the Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court is frequently hailed as Ohio's toughest Judge if you can believe accounts in Cleveland local news media. The soft focus pic to the right comes from the Judge's own website was created for her run for the open Probate Court seat in Cuyahoga County (I'm told she did not win.) I'm also told that the picture belies the angry, bitter, scowling jurist who was dinged by the Court of Appeals in June of 2009 for, well, this is kind of unbelieveable, . . . so let me quote the excellent article by Leila Atassi in a year-end follow-up by the Plain Dealer of interesting stories from 2009:
"Whatever happened to the case of convicted killer Arif Majid, whom an appeals court granted a new trial because jurors slept through his first one? Cuyahoga County prosecutors asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn the appellate court's decision, arguing that Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula dealt with the matter at trial to the satisfaction of both parties. . .
If Majid's attorneys had a problem with the juror siestas, they should have spoken up at the time, prosecutors argued. But the high court declined to hear the case this month, allowing the appeal court decision to stand. The case is yet to be scheduled for retrial in Common Pleas Court, but a pretrial hearing is set for Jan. 6. . .
Majid, 35, was sentenced in 2007 to life in prison with a shot at parole after 35 years for fatally shooting Jerome Thomas in a Euclid bar and wounding three other men.
The 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals threw out his murder conviction in June because at least two jurors slept -- snoring loudly with mouth agape or head leaning against the wall -- through parts of the trial.
In its ruling, the appeals court accused Sutula of abusing her discretion in failing to realize that the slumbering jurors could not perform their duties and allowing them to participate in deliberations. According to the ruling, prosecutors tried to bring the problem to Sutula's attention five times during the trial.
'I saw it. So what? Let him sleep,' Sutula responded on one occasion near the end of the trial. 'You guys picked the jury. I didn't.'"
Okay, Cleveland--here's your tough Judge. Her bad attitude cost you the conviction of a killer, the costs of two appellate proceedings, and now you get to spend your tax dollars re-trying this man who is apparently a violent offender, because your "tough" judge didn't realize that criminal defendants have a right to jury trials--jurors who are conscious. Oh, one other thing, Sutula told the Plain Dealer that her quoted remarks were taken out of context and that she, the Judge would order the transcript of the trial to provide context--so reporter Atassi, called up the Judge for the yearend follow-up, fortunately for readers of the Plain Dealer, Ms. Atassi did not hold her breath for a return call. No contextualizing transcript has been forthcoming.
As an aside, my Bad Lawyering over the years has taken me into this courthouse, it's in a 20 + story "Justice Center." In talking about courtroom architecture, a subject I promise to revisit soon--I can attest that Judge Sutula's courtroom is nothing like the images at her campaign website. There is no marble, the room is a carpeted vertically-paneled, artifically-lit hellish-place. I can easily imagine the sleep-inducing effects of lunch on jurors trying to keep their eyes open in that environment. A subject we will revist another day.