Local judges cross the line in going to bat for convict
Several years ago, a federal prosecutor involved in the investigation of government corruption and organized crime in Mahoning County offered this observation: Judges should be the loneliest people in the community.
It doesn't take a genius to understand what the prosecutor was saying, yet it seems his advice has fallen on deaf ears.
A front page story in Wednesday's Vindicator about three local judges singing the praises of a Youngstown restaurateur who has pleaded guilty to selling hundreds of pounds of marijuana is one more black eye for the local judiciary.
There is no explanation Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr. and retired Common Pleas Judge Charles Bannon, who is on active status, can give that would justify their writing letters on behalf of William Umbel.
Umbel has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Youngstown to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. The plea agreement he entered into with the U.S. attorney's office states that he accepted deliveries from others -- 200 to 600 pounds at a time -- for his customers. The agreement requires Umbel to cooperate with the government.
Umbel, 57, who was involved with the Pyatt Street Diner and the Colonial House, which are no longer in business, and the Open Hearth, will be sentenced next month by federal Judge Peter C. Economus.
What could Krichbaum, Douglas and Bannon have been thinking when they wrote letters to the federal judge seeking a break for the convicted drug pusher? These three members of the bench are well aware of the devastating effect illegal drugs have had on the Mahoning Valley in general and the city of Youngstown in particular.
Most of the homicides in the city are the result of drug gangs battling for turf.
The judges also know that marijuana is a gateway drug, which means its use leads to cocaine and other hard, addictive drugs.
And, Krichbaum, Douglas and Bannon know that by virtue of their positions, their behavior does have consequences.
Krichbaum, who has often used his position to berate criminals before sentencing them, has opened himself up to the charge that he is a hypocrite the next time he deigns to call some drug pusher a cancer on society
As for Douglas, can he now credibly use his position of authority to preach to young inner city residents about staying away from drugs when there is a letter on file from him describing Umbel as a kinder, gentler human being?
Bannon's long tenure on the bench has not only exposed him to the darker side of the community, but has given him a close-up look at the corruption that has permeated the bench at all levels, resulting in the Mahoning Valley's being nationally embarrassed.
We are reminded of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer's pained expression as he talked about the criminal behavior of the judges and lawyers swept up in the federal government's crackdown on government corruption and organized crime in Mahoning County. The chief justice kept repeating the phrase "appearance of impropriety" as he talked about the behavior of members of the legal profession.
In fairness, Krichbaum, Douglas and Bannon aren't the first public officials to send letters on behalf of convicts, but their positions as judges do set them apart from the others.