ELYRIA — Visiting Judge Virgil Sinclair Jr. told prosecutors and defense attorneys in the controversial Head Start child molestation case that he wants time to review the case before setting any kind of hearing.
Jack Bradley, one of Nancy Smith’s attorneys, said Sinclair laid out his desire to dig into the court file during a telephone status conference Friday. He also said that Sinclair, who although retired from the Stark County Common Pleas Court continues to oversee a docket there until a replacement is named, wants to hold another conference call next month.
Bradley also said Sinclair told the lawyers that they would all be given ample opportunity to file any motions they deemed necessary in the case.
“We all left the conversation feeling like the judge is going to give everybody a fair hearing,” Bradley said.
Both Smith and her codefendant Joseph Allen have been free since 2009 when Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge reopened their case because of a technical flaw in the original sentencing entries in the case.
Burge, who has since removed himself from the case, later acquitted the pair of allegations they molested 4- and 5-year-old students on Smith’s Head Start bus route in the 1990s saying he had no confidence the verdicts were correct. He was among those who urged the Ohio Parole Board to support her clemency bid and has said he will do the same for Allen, who has only just started the clemency process.
Smith is awaiting a decision from the Ohio Parole Board on whether or not its members will recommend clemency to Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Bradley said he had been worried that Sinclair might set a hearing to order Smith back to prison.
Burge has left both Smith and Allen free despite a 2011 Ohio Supreme Court ruling that he overstepped his authority when he acquitted Smith. He said he did so at the request of Bradley and Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo, although he’s also said that Cillo denied having agreed to that.
Burge is the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel over his handling of the Head Start case.
The confidential investigation into Burge appears to involve more than just the Head Start case, however, because a Disciplinary Counsel attorney requested recordings of proceedings in Burge’s courtroom for 10 days between August and January. Neither Smith nor Allen appeared in Burge’s courtroom on any of those dates.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will, who has said he’ll support commuting Smith’s sentence to time served, but opposes a full pardon, declined to comment on Friday’s conference call.
Allen’s attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.