June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Visiting judge named in Head Start case

ELYRIA — Retired Stark County Common Pleas Judge Virgil Sinclair Jr. has been named visiting judge to preside over the controversial Head Start child molestation case.

Sinclair was assigned to the case Tuesday by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge, who inherited the cases of Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen from his predecessor, retired Judge Lynett McGough, removed himself from the cases earlier this month after determining he had a bias in favor of the defense.

Burge acquitted Smith and Allen of charges that they had molested 4- and 5-year-old students on Smith’s Head Start bus route in the 1990s after the case came back to him because of a technical flaw in the original sentencing entries.

He said after reviewing the evidence and trial transcript he had no confidence the guilty verdicts were correct. Prosecutors appealed the decision arguing that Burge had overstepped his authority and the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately agreed.

But Smith and Allen have remained free since the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 and both have asked Gov. John Kasich for clemency. The Ohio Parole Board has not yet issued a recommendation in Smith’s case and has not held a hearing on Allen’s request, which was filed earlier this month.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will has said he doesn’t oppose commuting Smith’s sentence to time served, but won’t back a full pardon. He has not yet said how he will respond to Allen’s clemency request.

Burge himself is the subject of an inquiry by the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel and that confidential investigation includes a review of his handing of the Head Start case.

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

About Brad Dicken

Brad Dicken is the senior writer for the Chronicle-Telegram. He covers courts and county government, and has been with the Chronicle since 2001. He can be reached at 329-7147 or BDicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter.