Mayor, columnist take unfair shots at Mahoning County courts

This letter is in response to Mayor Williams’ attack on the Common Pleas Court judges and Bertram de Souza’s Jan. 16 column regarding it. The mayor’s quote that he “(W)on’t take responsibility for the failures and indifference of the criminal justice system outside of the city, in Mahoning County” at his Community Celebration was unfounded and politically motivated. Mayor Williams may well be attempting to deflect the impending national scrutiny of safety of the streets of Youngstown on his watch. However, danger on the streets of Youngstown is in no way upon the Common Pleas Court judges’ shoulders and the mayor knows it.

The columnist then misconstrues the attack on our judges as “unanswered,” allegedly due to its validity, which is misleading. “Nary a peep,” de Souza writes of the judges’ lack of response. The Vindicator is well aware that judges are prohibited by their ethical canons from responding to public scrutiny. But the Mahoning County Bar Association is not.

The Common Pleas Court judges are anything but soft on criminal defendants and their crimes — and that’s a tough job in a city like Youngstown which serves up plenty of it. The mayor makes blanket statements such as firearm specs must not be dismissed and high level felonies should not be plea-bargained down. His statement assumes that these things are occurring in the Common Pleas courts. They are not. Any citizen can sit in our courtrooms and watch the criminal justice process and I invite them to do so.

The Vindicator also quotes the mayor as saying, “It’s time for fewer plea bargains, more trials, stiffer sentences and more accountability.” This statement clearly shows how out of touch Mayor Williams is with the Mahoning County courts. Plea bargains are a necessary part of the criminal justice system and only occur when appropriate. All of the general division judges with a criminal docket regularly try criminal cases. And they also regularly hand out stiff sentences. As for accountability — no other profession holds its members to a higher standard of accountability. A statement that the judges are not accountable is absurd and insubstantiable.

Last Sunday, Mr. de Souza suggested that Youngstown police begin breaking the taillights of “suspect vehicles” for probably cause to search them. Again a solid demonstration of a misaligned view of a solution. I find it very interesting which sections of the Constitution The Vindicator finds important and which should be ignored. That being said, Mr. de Souza should be very careful about calling for a police state — in Nazi Germany the first thing to go was the newspapers — and the reporters.

Michael D. Harlan, Youngstown

The writer is president of the Mahoning County Bar Association.