Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Bedford judge isn't a pimp and didn't take a bribe
Remember how Bedford Judge Harry Jacob III was accused of bribery and promoting prostitution – a charge usually used against pimps? Turns out that story, told by prosecutors in December, didn’t hold up in court.
At Jacob’s trial yesterday, Common Pleas Court Judge Brian Corrigan threw out the bribery charge and three charges of promoting prostitution before closing arguments. He ruled the state hadn’t made its case.
The embattled Jacob still faces 11 charges, including felonies involving tampering with records.* But so far, Jacob’s defense lawyers seem to be having some success with their strategy: admit their client had sex with prostitutes but argue he committed no other crimes.
The trial exposed holes in the prosecution’s key charges that I first revealed in my March story “The Bedford Judge and the Brothel Bust.”
Most of the case centers on the events of April 20, 2012, when Jacob allowed a young woman to resolve an outstanding traffic case by paying a $250 fine. Prosecutors claimed the woman, who was engaged in prostitution, had sex with Jacob in exchange for special treatment in court.
But Corrigan noted that $250 is actually a pretty typical fine for a traffic ticket. He ruled that the judge and the woman never agreed to sex for favors. “There’s no testimony he received any discount or other favorable consideration,” Corrigan said.
The woman’s story has shifted, so that may be a reason the bribery charge failed. But the three charges of promoting prostitution -- violating Ohio’s anti-pimping law – were always a stretch, as various local defense attorneys warned me for my March story.
“I would be cautious in believing that Judge Jacob engaged in the classic function of a pimp,” attorney Terry Gilbert said then. “Usually, in these cases, there are over-indictments.”
Those charges were a puzzle back then – what did prosecutors mean when they claimed Jacob had “supervised and induced” the activities of two prostitutes? Turns out that accusation was based on a rather novel interpretation of the law: Jacob paid women for threesomes.
As Corrigan put it delicately, the law targets “more of an operational aspect of prostitution, rather than what we see in this particular case.”
Now all the felony charges from the original indictment are gone. But Jacob could still be found guilty of corrupting his office, because prosecutors filed two superceding indictments this spring. Some of the newer felony charges allege he fudged court records. He also faces six misdemeanor charges of soliciting a prostitute. Corrigan will issue verdicts in about two weeks.* (Jacob waived his right to a jury trial.)
Prosecutors seem to have proven this much: Jacob’s lust for prostitutes made him stupid. It led him to break the law and violate judicial ethics. It will surely cost him his job. (He’s suspended from the bench pending the trial’s outcome.) Trial testimony showed Jacob paid for sex, heard the traffic case of a woman he had sex with, and visited the local brothel, Studio 54 Girls, on his lunch break. No judge’s career on the bench will survive that, nor should it.
But Corrigan’s ruling yesterday suggests that prosecutors initially overcharged Jacob. That’s significant because the Bedford indictments were the first big case for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty’s new public corruption unit. (The other defendant, former Bedford law director Kenneth Schuman, pleaded guilty last month to one of eight counts: having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Prosecutors agreed to drop seven other counts against Schuman, including bribery, theft in office, and obstructing justice.)
A prosecutor who overcharges in public corruption cases may be an improvement over one who sees and hears no evil among his fellow elected officials. But the next time a public official gets indicted, it’ll be worth remembering how this case started and how it’s ending.
Update, 9/4: Corrigan found Jacob guilty of five misdemeanors: two counts of falsifying court records and three counts of soliciting prostitution. (Read the WKYC-TV story here.) Jacob was found not guilty on all of the state's felony charges.
McGinty's office blasted Corrigan's verdicts in an angry statement. Jacob "disgraced his city and demeaned the judiciary of this state," it says.
"We plan to appeal the court's erroneous conclusions," the statement says. But not-guilty verdicts are final.
McGinty spokesman Joe Frolik tells me, "We plan to challenge the reasoning Judge Corrigan cited for some of his verdicts, but we understand that we cannot overturn them. We would hope that the appeals court might instruct future courts on how to apply the law."