Legal Ethics

Judge Linked to 'Lawmiss' Web Comments Removed from Case


Updated: An Ohio judge who has refused to step down from a serial murder case after a local newspaper reported that she may have posted anonymous Internet comments about the defendant and his lawyer told the state’s top court that she did nothing wrong and should not be forced to recuse herself. But Acting Ohio Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer removed her from the case late Thursday.

He said the comments have “created a situation that ‘poses an impediment to the judge’s ability to resolve any remaining legal and factual issues in a way that will appear to the parties and the public to be objective and fair,’ ” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Before the judge’s ruling, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold responded to a Monday filing in which defense counsel Rufus Sims asked the Ohio Supreme Court to require Saffold to recuse herself in the case of Anthony Sowell. There was no reason why she should do so, the judge said in a letter to the court, the Plain Dealer reported. The same newspaper earlier reported that Saffold may have made anonymous online comments as “Lawmiss,” as discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts.

“I have never publicly or anonymously, online or otherwise, attacked defense counsel Sims, his co-defense counsel or defendant Sowell,” Saffold wrote. “Absent any proof that I have, any further speculation on the matter is mere conjecture, an attempt to make this judicial process a sideshow and shift focus from the real issues in this case.”

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: ” ‘Lawmiss’ Comment on Accused Serial Killer Is Linked to Judge Overseeing His Case”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Accused of Case-Related E-Mail Declines to Step Down, Blames Media”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Sues Newspaper for $50M, Claims Breach of Promised Anonymity re Web Comments”

Updated April 23 to report that Saffold was removed from the case.

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