Outrageous, Unprofessional, Unethical Judge Michael Cicconetti

Pepper spray in the face? Uh, that's not what we mean by "blind justice"...

Pepper spray in the face? Uh, that’s not what we mean by “blind justice”…

In Painesville, Ohio, Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti decreed that Diamond Gaston, tried for assault for pepper-spraying another woman in the face, had to choose between spending a month in jail or getting pepper-sprayed in her face by the victim. Judge Cicconetti—the sly fox—had secretly had the pepper-spray replaced with a saline solution without telling Gaston, who was his victim. In the same week,  Cicconetti sentenced a woman who failed to pay a cab driver for a 30 mile trip to the choice of jail time or paying $100 restitution and walking the 30 miles she stole from the cabbie. This got him on all the cable news shows, so obviously it was a great idea.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley was so upset by these absurd sentences (and others he has condemned) that his blog post on the topic is (uncharacteristically) riddled with errors, as if he wrote it while screaming as tears blurred his eyes. Maybe he did. Unlike your host, Turley is usually reserved and understated, but this really got to him. Here: my view is substantially the same as his, so let’s give the professor his say (with a little editing):

“Cicconetti seems to think that his substitution of the water somehow moves this order into the realm of an appropriate action by a judge. It does not. Cicconetti is one of a growing number of judges who are converting our courts into theaters of the absurd for the enjoyment of the public and the vainglory of themselves. I am not even sure what this theatrics proved. ….These shaming punishments degrade our legal system and turn judges into little Caesars, meting out their own justice to the thrill of the public. We have seen judges force people to cut their hair in their courtroom or clean their court bench with a toothbrush. These sentences make justice a form of public entertainment and allow judges to turn their courtrooms into their own macabre productions. While judges talk a good game about their effort to be creative, they clearly enjoy this role and the publicity that comes from making people demean themselves. It appeals to the lowest common denominator of our society and unfortunately there are many who enjoy to see others degraded. Indeed, some [judges] appear to be working through their own serious issues or yielding to their own emotional impulses in punishments like forcing people to …wear signs that the judge herself creates over the weekend (as discuss[ed] in prior stories). I believe this trend is a direct result of faux court programs like Judge Judy and Judge Brown (who was recently arrested himself) where people are yelled at or taunted by the court. We are losing the distinction between entertainment and the law. The result is a loss of professionalism and consistency in sentencing. I have long advocated for bar associations to move against [such] judges …and consider removal over such abusive sentencing. Little has been done. Judges bask in national coverage and develop a taste for the attention and accolades. Absent an effort by the bar, this trend will grow and our court system will increasingly add these circus-like scenes for public enjoyment.”

Professor Turley doesn’t like these creative sentences, I guess.

He’s absolutely right.

To be fair to the judge, Ohio’s Judicial Code of Conduct is infuriatingly vague, and finding a provision that Cicconetti’s  Mikado-like sentences clearly violate is difficult. I’d try Rule 1.2, which requires that

“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety”

and says…

“The test for appearance of impropriety is an objective standard that focuses on whether the conduct would create, in reasonable minds, a perception that the judge violated this code, engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to public confidence in the judiciary, or engaged in other conduct that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge.”

I’ll rest my case on “temperament” and “fitness to serve.”

____________________________

Pointer: Tim LeVier

19 thoughts on “Outrageous, Unprofessional, Unethical Judge Michael Cicconetti

  1. Doesn’t Ohio have punishments set down for most crimes? If they do, then why is this dingbat getting away with making up his own sentences?

    • ignorance. the judge gives the defendants a CHOICE he doesn’t force anyone to take these punishments. do a little research

      • You’re the ignorant one. Giving defendants such “choices” is an abuse of power and a violation of multiple Judicial Ethics Canons. A year in jail, or or I cut off your pinky finger! A 5000 fine, or you let yourself be attacked by my dog! That’s not a choice. What’s the matter with you? Herr’s your choice: make more intelligent comments, or get off the blog.

  2. I know why he substituted saline in the spray, it is an assault. Having the victim spray her attacker would be the same as having her stab her attacker with a knife or hit her with a baseball bat I’m sure THAT is prohibited (please, please, please don’t say it isn’t). The judge seems to like ‘eye for an eye’ justice, but that just isn’t allowed. The ‘eye for an eye’ justice system was more civilized than the ‘kill your whole family for an eye’ justice that preceded it. Our current system is supposed to have moved beyond that. How old IS this judge, anyway?

    • It’s assault with saline spray, too. The issue is whether the consent is valid. Interestingly, she consented to the assualt with pepper spray, but NOT to the saline assault. From Findlaw:

      “Consent may be available as a defense to an assault/battery charge, depending on the jurisdiction. Where available, if an individual has consented voluntarily to a particular act, then that same act generally cannot be asserted to constitute an assault and battery. But if the extent of the act exceeds the permission provided, it can still provide grounds for assault and battery charges. Also, it should be noted that courts scrutinize consent as a defense closely, and tend to find that harmful actions, even if consented to, violate public policy and should still be punished under assault, battery, or other laws.”

      I don’t think the consent to assault should stand—it isn’t voluntary.

  3. Judge Cicconetti is about 64 and has used jail alternatives before, according to this Wikipedia page (http://en.m.wikipedia .org/wiki/Michael_Cicconetti). and the links above. I liked the walking 30 miles for the stolen cab fare penalty. That seems similar to the case mentioned on Wikipedia of a night in the woods for abandoning kittens. Both take time and effort and a loss of freedom to do other things for the duration by the convicted, hopefully prompting some self-reflection or remorse for what was done. The pepper spray case doesn’t fit the judge’s pattern of judgments – did he run out of creative, potentially rehabilitative ideas that day? In addition to the consent issues mentioned for the convicted woman, the judge created potential problems for the victim. He gave her permission to possibly commit assault, to “get even,” and provided the weapon. Did the victim know about the substitution? The local news link doesn’t say. Could she be charged or sued? And out of curiousity, what if the victim hadn’t wanted to spray the woman? Was she legally required to do so?

  4. I can’t believe, being a G&S maven, that you haven’t quoted “The most humane Mikado”

    The billiard-sharp whom anyone catches
    His doom’s extremely hard—
    He’s made to dwell
    In a dungeon cell
    On a spot that’s always barred.
    And there he plays extravagant matches
    In fitless finger-stalls,
    On a cloth untrue
    With a twisted cue
    And elliptical billiard balls.

    My object all sublime
    I shall achieve in time—
    To let the punishment fit the crime—
    The punishment fit the crime;
    And make each prisoner pent
    Unwillingly represent
    A source of innocent merriment,
    Of innocent merriment!

  5. In isolation, sentencing the women to walking 30 miles might be akin to community service, promoting a healthy habit of exercise in steady of an unhealthy habit of petty criminality, and have a positive impact on her life.

    The options here however, seems more of an exercise in humiliation. A judge who offers pepper spray as a punishment does not have the best interest of the defendant at heart. For the 30 mile punishment, I envision something more akin to a chain gang, walking cuffed by the side of the road with a county sheriff on overtime following at 3 miles per hour in a cruiser… not an hour spent at a local high school’s track every afternoon for a month, having an administrator sign her mileage sheet on behalf of the court.

    • A positive “30 mile” sentence might be being order to walk a mile a day for 30 days, for instance. (I apparently deleted this line at the end of the first paragraph)

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