Ohio judge Shirley Strickland Saffold got Judge of the Day honors here last month for nasty comments made anonymously on the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s website by someone with the handle “Lawmiss.” After Lawmiss made a comment about the mental state of a relative of a reporter, the reporter decided to find out who the person behind the account was. The AOL email address associated with the account was Judge Saffold’s. The Dealer outed her, running a story about all the things Lawmiss had said about trials Saffold had overseen and about specific attorneys, defendants, and other judges.
Saffold denied making the comments. Instead, Judge’s Saffold’s 23-year-old daughter claimed she was the one snipping about the antics in her mom’s courtroom, saying that she shares the AOL email address with her mother. The Plain Dealer got a hold of the browser history from Saffold’s courtroom computer, though, and discovered that she had accessed certain articles at the same time that Lawmiss made comments on them, which made her denials seem a bit dubious.
One of the attorneys described by Lawmiss as a “buffoon” with an “Amos and Andy mouth” is currently appearing before Judge Saffold, defending Anthony Sowell, an alleged serial killer. He has filed multiple motions that Saffold recuse herself from the case. She both refused to step down and sued the Plain Dealer for $50 million for invasion of her, ahem, daughter’s privacy. Saffold wrote to the court yesterday arguing that she not be removed from the case.
The Ohio Supreme Court was not convinced, though…
Acting Ohio Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer has removed Saffold from hearing the Sowell case. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Pfeifer found no evidence to suggest that Saffold made the postings, but he found the comments have “created a situation that ‘poses an impediment to the judge’s ability to resolve any remaining legal and factual issues in a way that will appear to the parties and the public to be objective and fair.’ ”
Pfeifer wrote in his order, “An objective observer who has read the online postings might reasonably question why comments about a defendant and defense counsel appearing before the judge were posted on the judge’s personal online account, even if the judge did not make the comments herself.”
Yes. An objective person reasonably might.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer is doing its best to convict her in the court of public opinion. It filed a request for public records “showing all websites visited by the desktop computer assigned to Saffold.” It’s pretty damning stuff:
The computer is in Saffold’s private chambers, across a hallway from her courtroom. County computer servers keep track of the time and date and Web domain of each site visited by each computer on a county server. The servers take note every time a computer user hits the “enter” button, to visit a website, refresh a Web page or submit an online comment.
The newspaper compared the dates and times that Saffold’s computer visited pages on cleveland.com to the dates and times that comments were left by lawmiss and governmentwatcher [Ed. note: another commenter account that Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks is linked to Saffold].
Altogether, 50 lawmiss and governmentwatcher comments were posted within two minutes of Saffold’s computer clicking on a page at cleveland.com or an affiliated site, advance.net, the analysis found.
Um, maybe it’s time for Saffold to own up and apologize.
Beyond those 50, three other lawmiss or governmentwatcher comments were posted during times when Saffold’s computer was actively surfing the internet outside of cleveland.com or advance.net, the analysis found. As for the lawmiss and governmentwatcher comments posted when Saffold’s computer was not surfing the Internet, most were posted outside of office hours, on holidays, weekends or evenings, the analysis shows.
The Plain Dealer reported in March that the lawmiss username was created with an e-mail account that Saffold has used. It was created by her ex-husband, she said, and is used by seven family members.
Why are seven people using one email account? Newsflash from ten years ago: You can sign up for your own email account with Gmail, Yahoo, even Hotmail. It’s free!
Things aren’t looking good for the Ohio judge. This is the point in the poker game when bluffing no longer works. Time to fold, Saffold.
I Did Nothing Wrong, Judge Linked to ‘Lawmiss’ Post Tells Ohio’s Top Court [ABA Journal]
Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold is removed from the Anthony Sowell murder trial [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
Were ‘governmentwatcher’ posts made by same user as ‘lawmiss’? [Cleveland Plain Dealer]