The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Political class freedom redistribution, Part 5
The Good: Ricky Jackson is a Black American in the citizen class who spent 39 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Jackson was freed in November, 2014 after Eddie Vernon, who when he was 12-years-old claimed he was an eye witness to the murder allegedly committed by Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers, Wiley and Ronnie. Vernon recently recanted his testimony, saying he kept quiet because investigators threatened to imprison his parents. The Ohio Innocence Project has been working the case since 2010, but not until Eddie Vernon backed off his incriminating testimony did the case find legs to exonerate Mr. Jackson. After his release Jackson said at first he felt hate toward Vernon, but later came to forgive Vernon as he was only twelve years old when he gave his testimony and also under duress by the investigators who threatened to jail Vernon’s parents for perjury.(1)
The Bad: James Schmidt is a White American in the political class who was elected Greene County Treasurer in 1983 and served continuously until 2010 when he resigned as part of his plea bargain to avoid felony charges that most certainly would have landed him in prison. According to the Ohio Ethics Commission’s report, from 1996 to 2008 Schmidt unlawfully ordered employees of his public office to perform work for his private law firm and real estate and appraisal businesses. Schmidt pled guilty to four misdemeanor counts to include benefiting from a public contract, accepting illegal compensation, conflict of interest and misusing county equipment and personnel. Schmidt did not spend one minute in prison. In fact, the Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel even ruled to stay a provision in Schmidt’s plea bargain that added a 12-month suspension of his law license.(3, 4, 5, 6)
The Ugly: Comparing these two cases you would think they were products of two diametrically opposed legal systems, which in a way they were, but they do have two striking similarities. Ricky Jackson and James Schmidt were both fall guys for the political class. Jackson took the fall for lazy, inept, corrupt law enforcement, prosecutors and judges who don’t care whose lives they ruin as long as they pin guilt on someone. Schmidt took the fall for the entire political class including lazy, inept, corrupt law enforcement, prosecutors and judges who for over a decade tolerated Schmidt’s malfeasance. A second similarity is that it took a courageous whistleblower to bring the truth into the light of day. Unfortunately it took 39 years to restore Ricky Jackson’s freedom. Also, it took more than a decade to tie James Schmidt to his crimes and misdemeanors resulting in little more than a symbolic slap on the wrist as punishment; however, a vast assemblage of co-conspirators move along secure in the knowledge that whistleblowers willing to risk everything are a rare commodity hoping they are long gone and the mess is left for someone else to clean up. In any case, here’s OCGJ’s short list of four arguments (there are many more) for the inane prosecution against James Schmidt and his good-old-boy political class network.
- The visiting judge bought Schmidt’s defense counsel’s notion of “mitigating factors” that justified a leaner sentence and stay of Schmidt’s law license suspension. Those factors included the obtuse assertion by Schmidt’s defense counsel that James Schmidt is “a wonderful man and a great public servant.”(4) Those kind words hardly describe an elected official who for more than a decade gouged Greene County taxpayers for personal gain and fired a public employee when she testified to the Ohio Ethics Commission.(5)
- In my opinion, that visiting judge was a useful idiot brought in to “fix” political class indiscretions as he did in April 2009 when he dismissed Case No. 2009-CV-0305 on an obscure procedural technicality.
- Two of Schmidt’s guilty pleas were for benefiting from a public contract and accepting illegal compensation from Judge Robert A. Hagler’s Greene County Probate Court for $49,300.(3) Schmidt’s total fine and restitution for over a decade of illegal activity with Judge Hagler observing from a front row seat totaled $38,950. Apparently ignorance of the law is a valid defense, at least for one Greene County judge.
- County Prosecutor Stephen Haller recused himself from the Schmidt case “because (he) is both acquainted with and statutory counsel to the Treasurer.”(5) He also sat on the Greene County Republican Executive Committee along with Defendant Schmidt. Schmidt’s wife is First Assistant Prosecutor for Haller. Those same conflicts of interest existed when Haller defended County Commissioners Reid and Perales (and himself) in Case No. 2009-CV-0305, but of course fearing the facts would emerge into the light of day, Haller invited no independent prosecutor in for that investigation.
These two cases manifest everything that is wrong with our criminal justice system, and the longer the citizen class tolerates the status quo, the closer we come to the abyss that will end the promise by our founding fathers that due process and the rule of law apply equally to all citizens, regardless of race, religion, national origin or economic status.
- Lisa Cornwell, Ricky Jackson, Exonerated After 39 Years In Prison, Is ‘Living in the Moment,’ Associated Press, Nov 25, 2014.”
- Rachel Dissell, Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman are free men, but will they be compensated for the wrongful convictions that sent them to prison for 39 years?, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Nov 25, 2014.
- Lawrence Budd and Cornelius Frolik, Greene County Treasurer resigns from office, Springfield News Sun, Dec 13, 2010.
- Mark Gokavi, Ohio Supreme Court considering one-year, stayed suspension for ex-Greene County treasurer, Dayton Daily News, Aug 3, 2010.
- Cornelius Frolik, Fear of job loss kept some Schmidt workers quiet, Dayton Daily News, Dec 19, 2010.
Disciplinary Counsel v. Schmidt, 134Ohio St.3d 557, 2012-Ohio-5712