ELYRIA — Lorain County Domestic Relations Judge Lisa Swenski doesn’t normally handle adult criminal cases, but when it comes to picking a judge to handle a death penalty case, Swenski’s name is in the mix along with the county’s General Division judges.
Swenski’s first chance to be assigned a death penalty case came Thursday when county Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi held a hearing to determine who would take over the capital case of accused killer Albert Fine. Judge James Burge, who had been overseeing the Fine case, removed himself from that and other cases being handled by Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo earlier this year.
Although Swenski didn’t get the Fine case — it went to Judge Raymond Ewers — she was assigned a number in the rust-colored plastic billiards pill bottle used by the county to randomly draw judges for death penalty cases.
The only reason Swenski’s name was in consideration was because she completed training last year to become a death penalty-certified judge, Domestic Relations Court Administrator Jody Barilla said.
The other two Domestic Relations judges, Debra Boros and Frank Janik, haven’t gone through the same voluntary training, Barilla said.
“Domestic relations and probate judges are not required to take the capital case training,” Barilla said. “Judge Swenski chose to.”
Swenski declined an interview request, Barilla said, because she didn’t want to risk any comments she made becoming an issue if she ever is assigned a death penalty case.
“She’s in the pool just like all the General Division judges,” she said.
Swenski also is eligible to serve on three-judge panels that determine guilt and punishment if a defendant facing a possible death sentence decides to waive a jury trial and have judges hear his case.
Although the county’s judges have typically been assigned to panels by the administrative judge, a post held by Burge, county Prosecutor Dennis Will said Thursday that an October decision by the Ohio Supreme Court changed that.
Will said the ruling, which dealt with a case in another county, means that Probate Judge James Walther, the county’s presiding judge, will now pick panel members. Will fought an unsuccessful battle against many of the county’s judges several years ago to have the presiding judge decide who served on the panels.
Fine, who is accused of killing and dismembering his girlfriend, Catherine “Kat” Hoholski, in June 2012. He is due in court again in March.