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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Ohio High Court Disbars Bribe-Taking Judge

(CN) - The Ohio Supreme Court disbarred a former judge who was convicted of accepting bribes and who gave false testimony at his trial.

Steven Terry began to serve as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in 2007.

Four years later, he was convicted of federal conspiracy and mail-fraud charges after he provided judicial favors in exchange for campaign contributions.

Terry was serving as a judge when a campaign supporter, former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, convinced him to rule against a bank in a foreclosure action, according to court records.

Terry was sentenced to 63 months in prison, and a panel of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline recommended his indefinite suspension from the practice of law.

Because the sentencing judge found that Terry had committed perjury during his criminal trial, the board also recommended Terry's disbarment.

The Ohio Supreme Court approved the recommendation in an unsigned Feb. 25 opinion, after comparing his case to that of Judge Bridget McCafferty, who was suspended for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about her involvement with Russo and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

"We find that Terry's actions and resulting criminal convictions are more egregious than those at issue in McCafferty," the ruling states, noting that McCafferty was not charged with misusing her judicial position. "In contrast, Terry was convicted of felony offenses arising from actions taken in his official capacity as a judge - including defrauding and depriving Cuyahoga County citizens and taxpayers of his honest services by soliciting and accepting payments and other things of value from Russo through the U.S. Mail in exchange for favorable judicial action."

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, in a concurring opinion, stated that Terry's conduct "has brought disrepute to and caused irreparable harm to the judicial system, and it calls for 'the full measure of our disciplinary authority.'"

Justice William O'Neill dissented, writing that he did not find a "meaningful difference" between the conduct of Terry and McCafferty, noting that Terry received "the functional equivalent of the death penalty for a lawyer."

O'Neill recommended indefinite suspension, which would have left the door open for Terry to apply for reinstatement.

"The prospects of that happening are no doubt slim, but I have trust in my colleagues to make the right decision at that time," O'Neill wrote. "I see no benefit to slamming shut that door at this time."

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