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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wanda C. Jones on Judge Daniel Gaul: What Good is Experience if You're Biased?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 9:46 AM

  • Facebook / South Euclid United Church of Christ
During a judicial candidates' forum Tuesday night at the South Euclid United Church of Christ, Wanda C. Jones, an African-American Republican candidate running against Daniel Gaul (of Serial fame) for a seat on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, said her lack of experience, relative to Gaul's, shouldn't be a deciding factor in the race.

"What good is experience," she said, "if you're not unbiased?"

Jones has practiced law for just under seven years, and is currently a partner at a private practice, Axner & Jones, in Solon. She said that even though her opponent, Daniel Gaul, has nearly 28 years on the bench, his behavior in the courtroom, as captured in Episode two of the popular podcast, demonstrates personal bias.

When moderator Leon Bibb asked Jones if she'd heard the Serial podcast, Jones said that she had. She referenced her six children — African-American sons and Hispanic stepchildren — and said that she'd treat the people who came before her with respect. She mentioned how hard she'd worked to obtain her law degree, attending Cleveland-Marshall at night while working and raising a family during the day, and said she brought her life experiences with her to the courtroom. 

In a brief audience Q&A, she referenced her Plain Dealer endorsement interview, during which, she said, she and Gaul had disagreed on a number of issues. Among them was the value of "alternative dockets," which Jones said she recognizes and supports. The Plain Dealer / editorial board narrowly endorsed Jones this weekend, finally recognizing that Gaul's prejudicial behavior was a pattern.

The forum was a survey of many of the judicial candidates voters will encounter on the ballot in November, though several did not attend (including Gaul). For each contested race, moderator Leon Bibb invited the candidates to outline their experience and qualifications and then asked one or two questions about issues like bail reform, drug-related offenses, and the criminal justice system's racial and socioeconomic biases.

(While the forum was nonpartisan, and the church has not endorsed individual candidates, it does endorse Issue 1, the drug treatment and rehabilitation initiative designed, among other things, to decrease incarceration.)

Before the questions for the candidates began, Bibb — the NewsChannel 5 anchor who is also an active member of the South Euclid UCC congregation — invited the 50-60 gathered attendees to stand in an exercise. He then asked the women to sit down. Then the black people. Then all other minorities. Then anyone who didn't own property. Those who remained, he said, were the only people eligible to vote in 1776, when the country was founded.

Only six were left standing (including this correspondent). Four of them were candidates.

Gaul, in a statement issued to NewsChannel 5 for a story on Serial's coverage of him, said:

In the nearly 28 years I have had the privilege of serving as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, I have presided over approximately 40,000 cases.

During that time, there has not been one credible complaint of discrimination raised against me based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.

I am known as a fair, honest, and impartial judge. The thousands of attorneys who practice in my courtroom know me best. They have a high regard for my reputation as evidenced by my excellent rating by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Cuyahoga County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Indeed, in the current election cycle, the Norman S. Minor Bar Association, a bar association comprised of minority men and women, and the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, rate me as a good judge.

Moreover, additional groups and organizations such as the Fraternal Order of Police, the AFLCIO, the Teamsters Ohio D.R.I.V.E., the Cleveland American’s of Middle Eastern Origin(known as “Cameo”), and The Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, an LBGT Group, have all endorsed my candidacy on the basis of my excellent reputation for fairness and equality.

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