Is “Not Nuts” Enough?

Let’s say there is a judge in a court somewhere out there in flyover country. Let’s say it’s the Cleveland Municipal Court. Let’s call our judge Angela Stokes.  And let’s say that for the 18 years she’s been on the bench, everybody, including her court staff, thought she was, well, nuts.

And let’s say that Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline has issued an opinion requiring our Judge Stokes to undergo psychiatric evaluation because they conclude in a 49 page report that she may be “suffering from a mental illness that substantially impairs her ability to perform her duties as a judicial officer.”

What do you do with such a judge?

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The complaint does not force Stokes to step down. It represents the first step in the Ohio Supreme Court’s process of evaluating the judge for discipline.

Even a cop who makes a questionable shoot is taken off the streets pending the outcome of an investigation. It may not be much, and it may just be window-dressing to keep the public from marching on the police station with torches and pitchforks (maybe), but they do not hand his gun back and tell him, go forth and shoot at will.

Yet Judge Angela Stokes will take her bench this morning as if nothing happened. She will do whatever judge-y things she wants to do and, when the mood strikes, issue orders that will affect people’s lives. She may even ruin a few today. Even though she may be nuts.

The 49-page complaint states that Stokes abuses court resources, abuses lawyers and court staff and defendants who appear before her.

The Plain Dealer has previously documented the same complaints about Stokes and written columns about her, including one that noted the Disciplinary Counsel was tracking her.

Notably, the complaint does not allege that her decisions are wrong and incompetent, a detail carefully omitted  so that it doesn’t open a hole through which every past aggrieved litigant can rush.  Yet it’s implicit in the complaint that if she’s insane in everything she does, she’s insane in her determinations as well.

There is an appellate court, of course, which exists to correct the errors of an inferior court, but appellate courts rely on the judge below not being insane when making credibility determinations and findings of fact.  They are required to give certain credit to the court below, and as long as it comports with the ruling the appellate court wishes to issue, they do.

The presumption of regularity, that everything that happened below happened in the normal and expected way, covers an assortment of ills. In the case of Judge Stokes, did it ignore her mental state?

There are some very hard questions here that need to be asked. How is it possible, given the problems Judge Stokes caused going back to the beginning of her tenure on the bench, that it took 18 years before anybody thought it bad enough to be worthy of address?

The complaint says that since Stokes took the bench in 1995, she has consumed a disproportionate amount of the court’s human and material resources “due to her inability to administer her docket in a timely manner, her lack of organization, and her unreasonable expectation that all court employees be at her beck and call.”

Among the complaint’s findings: Stokes employed 21 different personal bailiffs at 27 different times since 1995, a point made by the Plain Dealer in a 2009 story.

Yet, the “issues” raised about Judge Stokes all seem largely peripheral. So she was slow? She used a disproportionate amount of resources? Meh. Maybe she was just far more thorough than other judges, and maybe the condemnation should be for other judges rushing through their dockets, not taking the time to fully appreciate each case, each defendant, each issue.

And so what if she had 21 bailiffs since 1995?  We’re all familiar with the fine civil servants who fill the administrative positions in courthouses. To be nice about it, they aren’t all fabulously helpful folks.  There are a lot of lawyers who would see this as perhaps the sanest thing a judge could do. And no, this isn’t a slam against bailiffs, under whatever name they’re called in various courts, but that they aren’t all charming and brilliant. Sometimes, they’re surly and unhelpful. Just sayin’.

So is Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Angela Stokes nuts or not? If she is, why did it take 18 years before anybody got up the guts to call her on it?  If she is, why is she still on the bench dispensing insanity? If she is, why not address her rulings, the things that make someone a good judge or not?  If she is, why just dicker around the edges, quibbling with details that make her sound more like a noncompliant bureaucrat than a bad judge?

Is Judge Stokes nuts? Who knows? The lawyers who appear before her might have stories of her craziness, maybe about her finding facts that no one ever alleged, or reaching conclusions that no sane person could ever reach. If so, let’s hear them. There may be tons of such stories, so let them out.

But you can’t do what’s been done here. By raising the specter that she’s mentally ill, you’ve ruined her as a judge. By leaving her on the bench after reaching the conclusion that she needs to be evaluated for mental illness, you’ve either undermined your point or you’ve shown yourself to be a gutless wonder. And by waiting 18 years to deal with what, apparently, has been documented problems, you’ve demonstrated the inability to manage a court system.

Regardless of the outcome of this fiasco, the Cleveland court system, and Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, has disgraced itself. Judge Stokes may be nuts, but your handling of it is incompetent. Way to go.  Anybody want to guess why the public may not hold the judiciary in the high esteem it desires?

16 comments on “Is “Not Nuts” Enough?

  1. William Crosby

    Hi Scott–

    The unfortunate Judge Stokes is the daughter of the retired Congressman and local Cleveland legend Louis Stokes. She is the niece of the late-Carl Stokes who was the first African-American mayor of a (then) major American city. The US District Courthouse is named after Carl Stokes. In other words, the Hon. Angela Stokes possesses a highly-electable last name and pedigree (although this latter point is arguable).

    My friend, Ken, is currently representing a mutual friend in front of Judge Stokes and in the weeks before this article was published he was relating bizarre and troubling experiences in Judge Stokes courtroom bordering on actual incompetence and disability and possibly dementia. For instance, Ken reports that the litigants are forced to negotiate nearly all matters between them which the Judge may or may not agree to adopt at sidebar but can not reduce to orders because in her dithering she forgets the agreements. He has spent untold hours waiting for her to act on simple and routine procedural matters which seem to baffle here. Ken was in front of Judge Stokes, Monday. He reluctantly decided to file an affidavit of bias and prejudice in his matter with the Ohio Supreme Court and attach his affidavit summarizing his observations and incorporating the Judicial report and recommendation–in an effort to obtain justice for our mutual friend in her complicated traffic case which he had otherwise resolved with the City Prosecutor.

    It is baffling to most local attorneys that Judge Stokes has not been removed. It is clear that Judge Stokes is disabled and consequently her judicial actions are tainted. The Ohio Supreme Court is not doing its job in allowing the appearance of injustice to continue while she remains on the bench.

    1. SHG Post author

      Hey BL. Long time, no hear. Good to have you around.

      This is the sort of real information that allows us outsiders to understand why she’s nuts, as opposed to the conclusion in a relatively whitewashed report. Of course, it leaves the other questions open, like why the hell she’s allowed to remain on the bench. Thanks for the hard info, and hope all is well.

  2. Fubar

    SHG wrote:

    Regardless of the outcome of this fiasco, the Cleveland court system, and Ohio Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, has disgraced itself. Judge Stokes may be nuts, but your handling of it is incompetent. Way to go. …

    No doubt. But could some of that incompetence possibly be the result of murky or inadequate substantive and procedural law? Or the fact that any proceedings could be adversarial and therefore subject to various rights of the judge?

    I’m not in OH, have only read of this saga peripherally, and I do not know the applicable statutes, rules and case law of OH. If similar history with which I am slightly more familiar (only as an informed citizen) is any guide, court system governing bodies deal with judges’ loss of mental competence slowly, with great difficulty, and with copious process. Ultimately the proceedings are adversarial, and judges have rights. Sometimes even the legislature becomes involved.

    The saga of Justice Marshall F. McComb’s last years on the Supreme Court of California might be instructive. Among other events during the course proceedings for his removal, the state constitution was amended to provide for the special appellate body which ultimately removed him. There were legal battles over even the standard of proof required to show mental incompetence.

    A decent recapitulation of events can be found in McComb v. Commission on Judicial Performance, 19 Cal. 3d (Spec. Trib. Supp.) 1.

    The case can be found at cjp.ca.gov. It is meticulously rife with citations to cases supporting every aspect of the ruling.

    1. SHG Post author

      To some extent, it’s possible, but even so it fails to address such questions as why it took approximately 18 years before any action was initiated given that these problems were flagrant since the outset of her judicial career.

      Then again, if, for example, they would have preferred she remove herself from the bench pending the psych eval but were unable to compel her to do so, then that would have been a good thing to say, and would have cleared up the issue. It need not be a mystery.

  3. Ultraviolet admin

    Some of this is the nature of the beast when it comes to age. There are those like JPS that at 90 are competent as ever (if not even more so), while others like Douglas who suffer from diseases associated with aging and lose cognitive ability and may not even realize it. It’s sad. Judges with life terms makes them politically independent, but on the other hand, strokes and Alzheimer’s don’t respect the robes.

  4. scvblwxq

    Judge Angela Stokes father is Congressman Louis Stokes who was good friends with the Chief Justice Moyer of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Now that we have a new Chief Justice the complaints are being looked at. Anybody entering her court room is liable to be threatened with being locked up for violation of one of her unwritten rules and insults are commonplace.

  5. amy abrams

    I’m in agreement with this article. If Judge Stokes is so bad then she doesn’t need to be on the bench making sound and just decisions. Defendants lives and futures are in the hands of a judge that just may suffer from mental illness. She shouldn’t be allowed to see to everyday operations in a courtroom until she’s had her psych eval and cleared of any diseases or defects. You never know, it could be physical and not mental also.

  6. Lee from Cleveland

    The reason this judge has been left to run wild for 18 years is all politics. I’m no lawyer, but I’ve heard plenty from more than one defense attorney that this woman is a downright awful judge and the local Bar Association begs voters each year to vote for anyone except her! If a judge is elected, then reelected, it’s super hard to say in a democracy that the voters were wrong…but the problem is that in this case, the voters ARE wrong. Municipal court judges almost never deal with anything more than traffic tickets and misdemeanors, so they don’t often make headlines like common pleas judges can with high-profile rape and murder cases—so voters see the name Stokes, which conjures up warm and fuzzy thoughts of famous well-liked local politicians from days past and figure that she must be good too—most voters do not spend time reading endorsements let alone deliberating over low-profile elected positions that won’t matter if you “don’t do anything wrong to end up in court” anyway. The state Supreme Court sees the name Stokes, thinks warm and fuzzy thoughts of well-liked and potentially still powerful politicians and dismisses the idea of seriously investigating a low-profile judge with a high-profile name in a big city and can easily blow things off by assuming it’s just complaints from disgruntled political opponents or people who didn’t get what they wanted in her courtroom.

    Besides that, judges, lawyers, and police are notorious for defending their own without question, so it is next to unheard of for someone to deal with situations like Angela Stokes with any sort of seriousness, especially when her name alone makes doing so a political hot potato that could potentially destroy your once-promising career.

    So if this doesn’t spell it out for you, I don’t know what it will take! This woman isn’t all bad, true—as I’ve heard from the same people who complain about her that she is merciful and flexible to indigent offenders—but I am certain from everything I’ve seen or heard that her inefficiency is NOT due to thoroughness! There are thirteen judges total in the Cleveland Municipal Court, and she stands out like a nuclear meltdown amid a tsunami-leveled disaster zone.

    1. SHG Post author

      So I gather that you couldn’t be bothered to read any of the comments above yours and chose instead to murder all those words for nothing? And still, you managed to miss the point of the post, which is why she was allowed to remain on the bench under these circumstances.

  7. stephanie

    Well the bat shit crazy lady was at it again this morning. Valentine day!!! Locking up a man that has fully done everything she’s ordered him to do. James asmondy sent to the work house. For wearing his alcohol bracelet (for the past 7 months over 1 DUI) the monitor place said it went off that he was drinking CHERRY VODKA!! he went in to get a breathalyzer immediately and passed. So at court today the place with the monitors didn’t show so bitch Angela (which I can only nice behind the keys of the computer to say) locked him up sent to the work house apparently until she sees fit to let him go back home to one lady that’s had his back threw all the drama with this case. After him losing his lisence his job his fucking 401k to pay for all this EXTRA shit!!!! No she took him away from home on Valentine’s day two days away from his dying mothers birthday!?!?! #HEARTLESSBITCH #STOKES

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