Legal Ethics

'Lawmiss' Comment on Accused Serial Killer Is Linked to Judge Overseeing His Case


One of the anonymous individuals who has posted on an Ohio newspaper’s affiliated website about an accused serial killer may be the judge overseeing his case, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The newspaper says that the “Lawmiss” who posted on its cleveland.com site about capital murder defendant Anthony Sowell used the personal e-mail address of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. She is overseeing Sowell’s trial, and was reportedly also in charge of another capital murder case about which “Lawmiss” has commented.

Asked about the Lawmiss comments, Saffold said earlier this week that she did not make them, the newspaper reports in this and another Plain Dealer article. However, her 23-year-old daughter, Sydney Saffold, said she made “quite a few, more than five” of some 80 Lawmiss posts.

One of the Plain Dealer articles says the newspaper checked Saffold’s court-issued computer Thursday pursuant to a public records request and determined that someone used it to access the cleveland.com site exactly when two Lawmiss comments concerning Saffold’s capital murder cases were posted. However, an attorney representing the daughter challenged the accuracy of these date-and-time listings. A Lawmiss post which was not made from Saffold’s courthouse computer criticizes Sowell’s defense lawyer concerning his “Amos and Andy style mouth” in a different case, the newspaper says.

The lawyer, Rufus Sims, tells the newspaper he suspects the judge made the post and will address the situation in court filings soon. “This shows a personal disdain for me and a personal bias against me that she could easily take out on our client,” he says concerning the Sowell case. “That’s the problem.”

The other Plain Dealer article says editors at the newspaper took note of the connection with Saffold’s personal e-mail address and the Lawmiss posts about defendants in her court after another comment using the moniker discussed the claimed mental state of a newspaper reporter’s relative. At that point, the newspaper checked registration information to see who was behind the prohibited personal attack.

Some observers are now attacking the Plain Dealer for doing so, contending that this practice violates the privacy expectations of commenters.

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Authorities Reel Over Parolees’ Stunning Alleged Crimes in 2 States”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge’s E-Mail to Newspaper Reportedly Forces Him Off Alleged Serial Killer’s Trial”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Won’t Jail Reporter; Fellow Jurist Says He Gave Accused Serial Killer’s Psych Report to Paper”

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