April 20, 2014

Elyria
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Judge Burge spares father who didn’t spare the rod

ELYRIA — County Common Pleas Judge James Burge says he is a firm believer in the old adage, “Spare the rod, spoil the child."

But that’s not why Burge said he cleared a Lorain man last week of domestic violence and child endangering charges for allegedly striking his son with a belt.

The prosecution failed to prove the necessary element of the crime, Burge said — that the 8-year-old boy had suffered serious physical harm and that the punishment was excessive.

Burge

James P. Smith, 28, was arrested by Lorain police in April after a teacher saw his son showing several red marks on his back to a fellow student and reported it to authorities.

The boy had been getting into trouble for touching female students and teachers inappropriately, Burge said, and Smith had tried several means of punishing him, including grounding him, taking away his video games and giving him extra chores. The message wasn’t sinking in, Burge said.

“It’s probably not something that I would have done, but I wasn’t raising Mr. Smith’s son either,” Burge said.

The marks on the boy’s back looked worse than they actually were, Burge said.

“Cosmetically they were bad, but I didn’t see any deep tissue problems,” he said. “I didn’t see bruises. I saw red marks. I didn’t see any welts where the skin was raised.”

Jenifer Berki, Smith’s attorney, said her client didn’t resort to corporal punishment until he’d exhausted other avenues of punishment.

Those weren’t working, she said, and he kept getting calls from the boy’s school about his behavior that eventually led to an in-school suspension.

Burge said he’s a supporter of corporal punishment and used it to keep his own children in line and when he was a teacher years ago. The judge even took a few hits from his father when he was growing up.

There’s been a cultural shift away from using corporal punishment in recent years, Burge said, as people have become afraid of getting in trouble or appearing politically incorrect for striking their children.

“I think that we would have far fewer juveniles in the system if their parents and teachers could correct them,” he said.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said Smith was charged because police and county Children Services was concerned about the injuries Smith’s son suffered from the belt. He said the photos, taken a day after the boy was hit, showed the injuries were severe.

“They’re pretty big marks,” he said.

Smith has a prior criminal record of domestic violence and drug charges, but Burge said that for the past several years he hasn’t run afoul of the law and is doing his best to raise his children.

“For my part, I think he’s a good father,” he said.

Berki said Smith has regained custody of his three children, who were taken by Children Services after he was charged earlier this year.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.