July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Comment from judge’s husband throws death penalty panel into turmoil

Judge Lisa Swenski

Judge Lisa Swenski

ELYRIA — Lawyers for accused killer Clarence Adams III want Lorain County Domestic Relations Judge Lisa Swenski removed from a three-judge panel set to begin Adams’ capital murder trial today because of comments Swenski’s husband allegedly made to a prosecutor.

“You don’t need to worry about my wife. She’s got no problem killing someone,” Lorain attorney Zachary Simonoff is quoted as telling Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort in an affidavit of disqualification filed by defense attorney Kreig Brusnahan.

The comment was overheard earlier this month by Kenneth Ortner, Adams’ other attorney, Brusnahan wrote in the affidavit filed Monday with the Ohio Supreme Court.

He wrote that Ortner didn’t bring up the comment until after Swenski was named to the panel during April 15 hearing in which two judges were randomly selected to serve on the panel with Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi, the presiding judge in Adams’ case.

The original two judges assigned to the panel were James Miraldi and Christopher Rothgery, but James Miraldi had a time conflict and Swenski was next in line to replace him.

Brusnahan wrote that he tried to confirm what Ortner heard by trying to find others who had overheard the comment and when that didn’t work, he approached Dezort.

“Prosecutor Dezort acknowledged to the Affiant that Attorney Simonoff did, in fact, make the same or a very similar comment, although being otherwise occupied at the time, she was not able to provide an exact quote,” Brusnahan wrote.

He also wrote that Simonoff’s comment gives him reason to believe Swenski “is prejudiced in this matter against the defendant, in that she may be predisposed to impose the death penalty.”

Swenski, who has until noon today to provide a written response to Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, declined to comment Monday.

A letter to Swenski from Erick Gale, the Supreme Court’s master commissioner, informed her that she should not make any rulings in the case until O’Connor has made a decision in the matter.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he doesn’t think Simonoff’s comments to Dezort are enough to justify removing Swenski from the panel.

“Anybody can say anything,” he said.

Will said it’s not uncommon for people to attribute statements or opinions to judges, but that doesn’t mean they’re true or that a judge should be removed because of something someone else said.

“I could spend 24 hours a day doing nothing but trying to remove judges,” he said.

Will also said that Adams’ lawyers want a new draw of judges, one that would include judges James Miraldi and James Burge.

Burge wasn’t included in the previous draw because of a January order he issued withdrawing from all cases being handled by Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo, who is working on Adams’ case. Burge lifted that order last week.

Brusnahan said he had no choice but to take the issue of Simonoff’s comments to the Supreme Court because of the serious nature of the case. If he hadn’t done so, he said, it could have created grounds for an appeal in the future.

“We’ve got a client who’s facing the possibility of death, and in a situation like that, we have to raise every conceivable issue,” Brusnahan said.

Adams and Austin Diaz, who is still awaiting trial, are accused in the April 8, 2012, beating death of Lamar “Mark” Taylor in Lorain.

Will said another issue is the timing of the filing with the Supreme Court. Affidavits of disqualification are supposed to be filed seven days before a court hearing, not on the eve of trial, although the law does allow for exceptions.

Brusnahan wrote in his affidavit that he couldn’t have filed his request any earlier because he was trying to confirm that Simonoff made the comment and didn’t have a meeting with Judge John Miraldi on the issue until Monday.

This is the second death penalty case this year to face delays because of efforts to remove a member of a three-judge panel. Prosecutors successfully convinced O’Connor to oust Burge from the case of Vincent Jackson Jr. because of his order removing himself from Cillo’s cases. Jackson was spared a death sentence by the panel that heard his case and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

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

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    The only thing that statement shows is that Swenski isn’t afraid to hand out a death sentence when it is warranted. Judges who refuse to hand down the death sentence should be removed from the bench.

  • golfingirl

    They all want the Miraldi brothers, along with Burge on their panel now.

    Swenski states she has no issue with the death penalty, so she has to go.

    Miraldis and Burge demonstrate they don’t believe in it, so they can stay.

    Should put a sign up as you enter the city of Elyria that reads:

    “Murderers Welcome”

  • SniperFire

    The Democrats will let him walk.

    • stop ur whining part deux

      Mommy make you some tomato soup and grilled cheese today?

  • Sis Delish

    JudgeShopping.com

    • gollfingirl

      She should be removed.

      How do you punish someone for killing, by doing the
      same exact thing to them you say is wrong?

      I applaud this move.

      • golfingirl

        The above reply submitted by an idiot previously known as Godfather, pretending to be me.

        Note the two “L’s” in the name.

        Stole my photo as well.

  • Ex_Subscriber

    What’s the difference? John Miraldi, one of the “life’ votes in the Jackson case, is already on the panel. Imposition of the death penalty has to be unanimous and because of his presence, won’t be. You don’t need to stack the deck with Burge this time. They’ll save him for when they need him in my opinion.

    • stillsleepyeyes

      she is replacing John on the panel……………….

    • gollfingirl

      What’s with all the hate? Nobody is being saved.
      If the judge has that much hate in her, REMOVE her at once!
      Criminals or not, they do not deserve to be killed!

      • Brian_Reinhardt

        Murderers do….

        • golfingirl

          The above reply submitted by Godfather, pretending to be me.

          Note the two “L’s” in the name.

      • golfingirl

        The above reply submitted by Godfather, pretending to be me.

        Note the two “L’s” in the name.

        • stop ur whining part deux

          I was a little confused. You strike me as a person who is all for the death penalty

          • golfingirl

            Someone stole my name and photo…that Godfather guy.

            See above. All his posts are now “history.”

      • stop ur whining part deux

        So if someone murders a family member in cold blood you would not want them to be executed?

  • Steven

    “She’s got no problem killing someone,””

    Technically, she doesn’t. If the criminal earns the death penalty, it is not on her shoulders.

    But that said, he was out of line for saying it.

  • stop ur whining part deux

    I see no problem with her presiding over this case. Being in favor of the death penalty does not mean that you should not be able to preside over a case in which the death penalty can be the sentence.

    We need more executions in the country. Make them brutal and make them public. Bring back draw and quartering people in public square. Show murderers what awaits when the steal the lives of innocent people.

  • ben dover

    you dont like it golfgirl? waah waah he has two L’s in his name. who cares you little baby. get a life look at your posting times on here. You on here 24-7 waah, waah im going to tell my mommy. waah, waah