Judge opposes pilot’s request to boot her from criminal case

YOUNGSTOWN — Judge Carla Baldwin of Youngstown Municipal Court has responded to allegations of attorneys for New Middletown pilot Christopher Wilkinson, who are asking that she be disqualified from Wilkinson’s criminal case.

Wilkinson, 33, is charged with misdemeanor inducing panic and unsafe operation of an aircraft Sept. 28, 2019, when he is accused of flying too low over Stambaugh Stadium during a Youngstown State University football game. He was flying a single-engine Cessna.

His attorneys asked the Ohio Supreme Court last month to remove Baldwin from the case, alleging that her recent actions suggest that she can no longer be impartial toward Wilkinson. It specifically mentioned the judge’s refusal to approve multiple proposed plea agreements presented to her.

Baldwin’s response to Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy of the Ohio Supreme Court, who will decide the issue, states, in part: “At the heart of the motion (to disqualify) is simple the issue that I said no,” Baldwin stated. “No to any more delays and no to any resolution that the court finds to be contrary to the interest of justice.”

Her filing added, “I can without hesitation or reservation assert that I remain ready, willing and able to preside over this case impartially and free of any bias to bring the matters to a just resolution.”


Her response to the court begins by stating the Wilkinson case is more than three years old and has been delayed “due to a number of factors beyond (Baldwin’s) control, including but not limited to an international pandemic, the departure of the original prosecutor who resigned from the prosecutor’s office, and a period of unavailability by the current prosecutor and the unavailability of (defense attorney Patrick Espinoza) due to replanned travel overseas.” Espinoza, of Painesville, is one of Wilkinson’s attorneys.

Other delays were caused by Espinoza filing for continuances in the case and “motion hearings where he would withdraw the motions shortly before the motion hearing or file a new motion, necessitating time for the (Youngstown law director’s office) to be able to respond, and the filing of a motion to dismiss, which this court found to have no legal basis.”

The judge said she rejected proposed plea agreements “solely because (she) found they did not take into account the seriousness of the offenses charged.”

She stated that she believes the case has taken so long to be completed because of a “consistent pattern that every time this matter has been set for trial, within days of the start, the court has received a motion from attorney Espinoza to delay the process.”

She added that she views the decision of Wilkinson’s attorneys to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to remove her from the case to be another attempt to delay the case.


The judge’s filing recounted events in the case dating back to June, when the case was set for a jury trial. Espinoza appeared for a July 1 hearing, but Wilkinson did not, so the judge issued a warrant for Wilkinson’s arrest.

On July 22, Wilkinson appeared before the judge and apologized, and the judge declined to hold him in contempt of court, “charging the error” to Espinoza. Then Espinoza then informed the judge the trial would require several days instead of one, so the judge reset the matter for a four-day trial starting Nov. 2. All pretrial filings were due Oct. 25.

But on Oct. 31, Espinoza asked to schedule the case for a plea hearing instead of trial. The judge denied the motion “as no agreement was presented to (Baldwin) for approval.” When the judge was informed of the plea offer, she rejected it as not acceptable, the filing states.

The judge “instructed both parties to be prepared to start the jury trial Nov. 2, 2022.” Espinoza appeared Nov. 2, but Wilkinson did not, so the judge issued an arrest warrant. “Attorney Espinoza did not bring his client before (a Youngstown Municipal Court magistrate) to withdraw the (arrest warrant) until Dec. 16, 2022,” the judge’s filing states.

The magistrate held Wilkinson in contempt of court, and Wilkinson was jailed over the weekend. He was released the following Monday after posting $10,000 bond.

Wilkinson’s filing to the Ohio Supreme Court stated that he did not appear for trial because he went to a training course for his job as a commercial pilot and flew from there to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1 with a final leg into Pittsburgh.

But “As happens in air travel, especially recently, Mr. Wilkinson’s flight to Washington National Airport was significantly delayed. Upon arriving at Washington National Airport, he learned that he had missed the connecting flight to Pittsburgh.”

Wilkinson’s options for making it to Youngstown the next morning were limited, the Wilkinson filing states.

Another trial date was set for Feb. 28, but Espinoza and co-counsel Gregory Finnerty of Dublin, Ohio, filed their request to have Baldwin removed Feb. 21. The filing is called an affidavit of disqualification.

Chief Justice Kennedy filed an entry Feb. 22 stating that she had accepted the Wilkinson filing and ordered that the criminal case in Youngstown Municipal Court be paused while she considered the disqualification request.

She gave Judge Baldwin until Wednesday to file her response. Kennedy has not yet issued a decision on the matter.



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