Someone dropped the ball

“Stuff happens” isn’t an acceptable explanation for why a man charged with aggravated robbery with a gun specification was given a get-out-of-jail-free card.

But that was essentially the explanation of Judge Maureen A. Sweeney, administrative judge of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, after she dismissed charges against Christopher Williams, 20.

Williams was arrested for armed robbery of an 80-year-old man from whom he took a cell phone and keys. But as of now, he’s free as a bird. Sweeney ruled that the 90 days allotted for the state to try a defendant who is being held in jail in lieu of bond had expired. The law allows for the clock to stop based on various court motions and exigencies, but even so, Sweeney said, the clock had run out by the time Williams appeared for trial Sept. 10

The prosecutor’s office disagrees and has appealed.

During the hearing that resulted in the dismissal of the charges against Williams, Judge Sweeney focused on a five-week period in early summer during which the trial could have been held. “There was no reason for delay between (June) 26th and July 31,” she said. On that basis she found that time had run out under Ohio’s speedy trial statute.

So, it should not be difficult to determine who dropped the ball — the judge or the assignment office in not scheduling the trial during that period.

That’s hardly a case of, “everybody had a little responsibility in this, and I don’t think anybody could point a finger at one person,” which is how Judge Sweeney described the failure to bring the case to trial in a timely manner.

Basis for appeal

As it happens, Judge Sweeney’s and the assignment clerk’s best friend may now be the office of Prosecutor Paul Gains. In an appeal filed just two days after the case was dismissed, Assistant Prosecutor Rhys B. Cartwright-Jones points out that the clock should not have been running during that June 26-July 31 period because the prosecution filed a motion for discovery on Feb. 22 that wasn’t answered by the defense until Aug. 28. The appeal argues that the defense had 60 days to reply, after which the trial clock should have stopped.

Justice will be served if the appeals court agrees and a trial is set for Williams, at which time he will either be proved guilty or acquitted. Such a ruling would also get the court or the assignment office off the hook for not having scheduled a trial in July.

But the case points up a continuing problem, at least in some of Mahoning County’s Common Please courts, in getting defendants from the jail and into the courtroom in an expeditious manner.

Judge Sweeney says, “I will not allow this to happen again.” But how can she promise to fix a problem if she can’t bring herself to identify the source of the problem?

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