Update: 10:00 AM
For the likes of a political blog such as the Stark County Political Report, there is no judge in all of Stark County that is quite the match of Stark County Court of Common Pleas judge Frank Forchione in generating reader interest.
It seems like every time Judge Frank opens his mouth, he creates an opportunity for the SCPR to write a blog and The Report's numbers do indicate that the readers like to read political assessments of what the good judge is doing and saying these days.
The only other judge in Stark who draws much political interest on part of the press and the Stark County public is Judge Eddie Elum of the Massillon Municipal Court bench.
Otherwise, Stark's judges (no offense, your Honors) are pretty much a bland group as far as political writers are concerned.
And one gets the impression that they "like it like that."
We know that Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court likes it like that.
Over the past several years or so she has made a number of proposals (e.g. A Proposal for Strengthening Judicial Elections; May, 2013) to lessen the impact of politics on judicial races and to get the public more participative in judicial elections but not on the basis of political party identification or on candidates playing to the press.
Rather she wants to see restructuring of judicial elections instituted and educational opportunities made available to the voting public that voters will take advantage of.
The SCPR would like to be a mouse in the chambers of Judge O'Connor when she reads about the "creative' sentencing efforts of the likes of Judge Forchione which, one writer says, is sanctioned in Ohio law.
He had to do "an about face" on Creative Effort #1 (the Studer case sentencing [redirecting fine money to a charity) and he may be undone by the Ohio Supreme Court on Creative Effort #2. (see note)
- NOTE: "an arbitrary" - the SCPR thinks - opening up the Stark County sheriff qualification process to new applicants whereon he quoted as wanting "to err on the side of democracy""
- The Report expects interim Sheriff Tim Swanson to file a new quo warranto this week asking the Supreme Court to once again remove George T. Maier from office, which, if it happens again, would, in effect, undo Forchione's Creative Effort #2
Not exactly some, the chief justice wants to see from her judges across Ohio, one would think.
But Judge Frank appears bound and determined to find ways to be a media headliner.
The SCPR has a copy of a recent day in the telephone life of Judge Forchione in hand and it reveals a number of telephone calls back and forth between the judge and the folks down at 500 Market Avenue, South.
How come the number of the SCPR does not appear in his telephone records?
Maybe just maybe that Judge Forchione knows that The Report is more than prepared and uniquely positioned to ask questions he might feel just more than a mite uncomfortable answering?
It is interesting to note "on the returned phone calls thing" how utterly even-handed (sarcasm folks) that Forchione is in his relationship with Stark County media. But, of course, those other media folks need every advantage they can muster in order to stay on the same page with the SCPR.
Moving on, one has to wonder "what is yet to come" between now and November, 2014 with Stark County's most media-savvy judge.
Hopefully, Forchione will have an opponent next fall. Whether or not a Stark County judge has an opponent is always a matter of concern for often they do not.
The number of "uncontested" elections in Stark County (not just judgeships) speaks volumes for the the effectiveness of both the Stark County Republican and Democratic Party chairmen.
And, if he does get an opponent, Forchione's "creative sentencing" propensity should be a front and center discussion point as the respective campaigns unfold.
The SCPR would like for such a race to show results that indicate a public satisfaction with or against this type of the administration of justice.
Here are a couple of examples of what other judges across the American judicial landscape have done in the way of unusual sentences.
- A former judge (a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, nonetheless) has been ordered to wear handcuffs having been convicted of political corruption using her court staff to run her political campaigns,
- An Ohio judge has ordered a Coshocton man to run around the block where the jail is located as retribution for his having run away from police post-traffic accident.
Apparently, Forchione has concluded that the surest way for him to get reelected is via political grandstanding.
The SCPR will do its part to help him be front and center with the Stark County public between now and November, 2104. Of course, The Report will be seeking out Forchione's opponent for reaction "what has been and what is yet to come" a la the ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Future of the classic Christmastime story Scrooge.
The Studer case and the George T. Maier sheriff qualification matter have already served as "lightning rods" that have put him in the Grandstand of Stark County Politics.
The question becomes is this a wise or unwise thing for him to be doing from a political standpoint.
It seems that Judge Forchione is at the vanguard of Creative Punishments the New Trend in Criminal Justice.
But "how will it play in
As far as the Stark County Political Report can determine, Forchione is the political equivalent of a Lightning rod that collects highly positive reviews and some let's say euphemistically "less enthusiastic reviews."
His former boss (as Canton law director) and Stark County commissioner Thomas Bernabei does a "the sun rises and sets on Frank Forchione" whereas (lawyers will like that word, no?) there are "unnamed" (readers can guess who they are, of course) others who seemingly "fly into a rage" at the mere mention of the judge's name.
The Report's take on Forchione is that if he senses unconditional endorsement of the way he comports himself, he couldn't be more gracious, friendly and correct.
However, like most folks with a strong political side to them, if one communicates scrutiny and implies a willingness to take exception in a given situation, depending on the situation, then feeling threatened he he is likely to react with frostiness, if not hostility.
So in the market place of ideas and political relationships, you've got those competing looks on Forhione out there floating in the larger Stark County political milieu. And it appears the political sphere is the one that he really is paying close attention to in his creative sentencing stance as next November looms on the political horizon.
Undoubtedly, he sees himself as being an avant-garde judicial official who is advancing the cause of "tailor-made" justice.
The SCPR has scoured the Internet in order to get an appreciation of how "creative sentencing" is being received.
- One site lists eleven opinions, generally favorable, on the Judge Forchione demonstrated style of sentencing,
- However, jurists (lawyers and law professors) take a more critical bent,
- A 2006 article quoting a then Ohio State Moritz College of Law professor (Berman) talks of the political risks that are inherent in "sentencing gong wrong."
- Some worry about "When [...] Judicial Creativity in Sentencing [is] Just a Bit Too Creative"
And, of course, one has to be concerned about "the rule of law" prevailing and that citizens not endorse a judge becoming a helter-skelter fashioner of the administration of justice.
In Stark County, it was exactly that concern that prompted a lawsuit being filed to force Judge Forchione to retract his sentence (in terms of where the fine money ended up).
And the SCPR thinks that Stark Countians should appreciate the effort of Citizen Thomas Marcelli in being willing to step forward to compel Judge Forchione to rethink his action in Studer.
As far as The Report is concerned, the best statement of worries about
The entire point of a code of laws is to move away from “common sense” justice and its attendant inconsistencies, and to professionalize the process by establishing a standardized list of crimes and punishments that’s valid in all jurisdictions.
The judiciary’s role is to interpret these laws and pass judgment on behalf of the state; judges are theoretically elected or appointed based on their supremely nuanced understanding of these laws, not based on their ability to hand-letter punitive signage.
This doesn’t mean that the system always works.
But it’s meant to ensure that, at the very least, the system proceeds with a measure of fairness and dignity.Judge Frank Forchione already has enough of a track record on his innovative sentencing techniques for Stark Countians to assess whether or not his trend-setting methods are something that "the body politic" cottons to.
Undoubtedly, he is on a roll and more headline grabbing and grandstanding-esque sentences are in the offing.
Fochione's jury should be the Stark County voting public as educated by the Stark County bar.
For those members of the bar who have entered the discussion, and, in one case has taken action, the SCPR says that such is a good thing.
Judges are very powerful figures in the American society.
While many would like to take the selection of judges out of the hands of the voting public, the SCPR is not among them.
Forchione has to understand that his creative sentencing trek can result in a his becoming a political lightning rod that could result in his political demise.
Such should be the right of the people in our democratic-republican system of government.
"Let it be written, let it be said" - and - let the people decide come November, 2014.
The Stark County "voting public 'jury'" is out on Judge Frank Forchione, no?