A judge who held office and presided over thousands of trials illegally for two six-year terms after failing to file campaign finance reports due 12 days before and 38 days after primary and general elections, and once annually for 10 years, was endorsed by a group of lawyers and ex-prosecutors to be re-elected. Despite usurping a public office and committing theft by receiving wages and benefits for which he was not entitled by law, his rating, according to the Judge4Yourself lawyers who rated him, was “excellent.”
In a public records request EJBNEWS obtained complete copies of Irish Catholic Judge John O’Donnell’s campaign finance reports from Irish Catholic director Pat McDonald and elections manager Brent Lawler. Judge4Yourself does not review the campaign finance reports of candidates they endorse to learn if they’ve met the mandatory election law requirements.
Every campaign in which a candidate establishes a committee to accept and spend funds there are two pre-election and post-election reports that are required to be filed 12 days before and 38 days after the election if they make it through the primary. There’s also an annually-required report for judges.
O’Donnell’s file revealed that for primary and general elections during campaigns between 2002 and 2014, and annually for 10 years, his campaign committee did not file any of the 18 reports he was required to file in compliance with section 3517.10 of Ohio’s revised code.
“(A) Except as otherwise provided in this division, every campaign committee, political action committee, legislative campaign fund, political party, and political contributing entity that made or received a contribution or made an expenditure in connection with the nomination or election of any candidate or in connection with any ballot issue or question at any election held or to be held in this state shall file, on a form prescribed under this section or by electronic means of transmission as provided in this section and section 3517.106 of the Revised Code, a full, true, and itemized statement, made under penalty of election falsification, setting forth in detail the contributions and expenditures, not later than four p.m. of the following dates:
(1) The twelfth day before the election to reflect contributions received and expenditures made from the close of business on the last day reflected in the last previously filed statement, if any, to the close of business on the twentieth day before the election;
(2) The thirty-eighth day after the election to reflect the contributions received and expenditures made from the close of business on the last day reflected in the last previously filed statement, if any, to the close of business on the seventh day before the filing of the statement;
(3) The last business day of January of every year to reflect the contributions received and expenditures made from the close of business on the last day reflected in the last previously filed statement, if any, to the close of business on the last day of December of the previous year …”
O’Donnell’s failure to file triggered mandatory duties on Irish Catholic former director Jane Platten in 2002, with McDonald as her deputy, to file a complaint with the OEC or prosecutor that records show they performed only once. The complaint, however, was withdrawn with an apology.
Throughout Platten’s employment, and McDonald as her replacement, the two derelict directors never performed the mandatory duty of referring the chronic campaign law violating O’Donnell to the OEC or the Cuyahoga County prosecutor assigned to them while they referred dozens of other candidates for the same non-filing violations.
According to ORC 3517.11(3)(a), Platten and McDonald were supposed to have employees audit campaign finance reports at the time of filing “by the officer to whom it is submitted” and then ”accepted on a conditional basis” if inaccuracies were found. Board employees were then supposed to notify the person who filed the report of the inaccuracies by certified letter.
Nothing in the statute gave Platten or McDonald the authority to “audit” campaign finance records and accept amendments from candidates months and up to 12 years after filing deadlines expired. O’Donnell should have been reported to the county prosecutor or the OEC. What O’Donnell, Platten and McDonald were instructed to do is found in R.C. 3517.11(D).
“No certificate of nomination or election shall be issued to a person, and no person elected to an office shall enter upon the performance of the duties of that office, until that person or that person’s campaign committee, as appropriate, has fully complied with this section and sections 3517.08, 3517.081, 3517.10, and 3517.13 of the Revised Code.”
O’Donnell was issued certificates of election anyway by Platten and McDonald despite instructions not to do so since they knew he hadn’t complied with the state’s campaign finance reporting laws they were required to both obey and enforce. O’Donnell also entered each “office” he was prohibited from entering as a candidate.
By failing to file in time for the primary R.C. 3517.11(D) disqualified him for the “office” of a “candidate” in the general election. By failing to file in time after the general election, O’Donnell disqualified himself from holding “office” as a “judge.” The statute is also self-guiding because it instructs candidates to stop themselves from violating the state’s election laws.
The Judge4Yourself rating committee consists of members of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the Norman S. Minor Bar Association, the Ohio Women’s Bar Association and the Cuyahoga Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Some members, like attorney Subodh Chandra, are former federal prosecutors. The associations are supposed to consist of “dozens of lawyers and others from these groups who volunteer up to 4 days every year to review candidates’ questionnaires, interview candidates, share information and develop candidate ratings.”
Despite the information reviewed by “dozens of lawyers and others” none of it includes campaign finance reports.
Knowledge of O’Donnell’s campaign law violations to attorneys should automatically initiate complaints from them against him with the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association because that organization is charged by Ohio’s Supreme Court with enforcing the Code of Professional Conduct and the Code of Judicial Conduct. The same with the other judicial candidates the association reviewed.
Judge John Sutula was endorsed by Judge4Yourself. He campaigned in November 7, 2006 for a term that began on January 8, 2007. His fully compliant “amended” campaign finance report was submitted to the elections board on January 31, 2008 by treasurer Andrea Kinast.
Sutula then campaigned for re-election on November 6, 2012 for a term that began on January 8, 2013. This time treasurer Alex Sutula submitted his fully compliant amended report on April 5, 2013. Like O’Donnell he entered the office and presided over trials in violation of R.C. 3517.11(D).
Under Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, lawyers who are judges, and those who interact with them, know this rule.
A Judge Shall Respect and Comply with the Law
and Shall Act at all Times in a Manner
that Promotes Public Confidence in the
Integrity and Impartiality of the Judiciary.
Lawler justified his and McDonald’s decision to accept O’Donnell’s campaign finance reports years after they were required to be filed as being authorized by Title 35. He said election officials were authorized by law to accept the reports when the violation was discovered. Even after accepting all of O’Donnell’s reports from 2002 through 2014 on January 22, 2014, there is no record the derelict and usurping judge was referred to either the OEC or the Cuyahoga County prosecuting attorney.
O’Donnell annually presided over thousands of cases knowing he’d violated R.C. 3517.11(D)’s instructions for him not to enter the office of a court of common pleas judge without first obeying R.C. 35171.0. Instead of being endorsed by lawyers who are supposed to know laws better than anyone else, O’Donnell should have been investigated by them and referred for criminal prosecution. The problem is that lawyers are worse than cops when it comes to covering up for each other.
Not only should O’Donnell and Sutula be investigated by the lawyers who endorsed them, and reported when evidence confirms the unlawful acts they committed, so should the other judges Judge4Yourself endorsed who failed to comply with R.C. 3517.10 and 3517.11(D).