Political cronyism, musical chairs, and the unqualified people who benefit - from county court to the Supreme Court

The Cincinnati Post

Unqualified Hamilton County Prosecutor, Joe Deters, to be appointed as Justice of Ohio's highest court with no experience on the bench.Photo byCincinnati Enquirer

Joseph T. Deters hasn’t ever served a day on the bench – but, he’ll be appointed an Ohio Supreme Court Justice next week. Not a drop of experience weighing 2 sides of an argument and it doesn’t matter. Governor DeWine doesn’t care. He’s presided over one of the most corrupt states in the country , he’s re-won the governor’s office, he’s in his final term, and he’s got nothing to lose.

Ohio residents aren’t so lucky, according to a flurry of protests on social media. (“I hope he shows up sober if he shows up at all. Cronyism at it’s worst” 12/13/2022).

It appears that retiring Juvenile Court Judge Melissa Powers isn’t actually retiring, either. It was all a ruse to set the stage for another political game of musical chairs designed to keep voters at bay when it comes to selecting their own candidates in a dying red county.

And, it works.

It has worked well for over 3 decades in Ohio to secure vulnerable seats in public office for the Republican Party. It’s legal, if not unscrupulous, but it works. In fact, Deters began his political career via appointment – twice. First in 1988 as Clerk of Courts, then again in 1992 as county prosecutor. He parlayed those gifts into a long - many-find - distinguished career despite high-profile skirmishes with ethics, claims of racism, and a little criminal theft in office, here and there.

This doesn’t sound like a resume appropriate for a Supreme Court Justice.

Deters has escaped accountability. Not so much as a slap on the wrist. The Ohio Supreme Court is supposed to police attorneys but has never entertained complaints on Deters despite the ethics complaints, the racial innuendo, and rumors of alcoholism. Putting all that little stuff aside, the last time Deters was working upstate as State Treasurer, his office was marred with corruption. “Matthew Borges, then Deters' chief of staff” along with his lead fundraiser was convicted in a scheme to sell million-dollar government contracts in exchange for campaign contributions. Much of that dirty money was funneled through the Hamilton County GOP which was forced to return over $50K in illegal donations, as well as, another 10+K that paid for meals and travel for Deters and friends.

Now, Deters’ former Chief of Staff, Matt “Monopoly Money” Borges has been indicted in the First Energy corruption case and Deters’ brother, Dennis Deters, was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio at the height of the scandal. Ohio Capitol Journal reported on text messages uncovered in the First Energy investigation related to how appointments were made to the PUCO:

In January of 2019, the FirstEnergy officials texted one another trying to fill not just one but two open PUCO seats, all the while mentioning phone calls with “DeWine guys” about it.

“That’s their plan but nothing certain until Sam’s [Randazzo’s] meeting [with DeWine],” Jones texted Dowling. “Four people in DeWine world, you, Sam, and I know about this.”

A few months later, Dennis Deters was appointed to the commission along with Sam Randazzo. Makes you wonder which “DeWine guys” were on those calls and exactly what did they talk about.

Deters has always been a Good Ole Boy and he’s very good at bringing the money into political campaigns. In 2020, he raised over $1.3 million, much of it from out of state, in order to hold onto his seat as prosecutor. His opponent raised less than $300K.

Guess who won.

Regardless, voters have ensured that Deters will end his political career as he started it, not by running for office and earning his position, but through political cronyism. Cronyism has created the same justice system that has taken a pass on issues such as First Energy, Pay Day Lending, unconstitutional gerrymandering, and public education funding, and general Pay to Play scandals – that has placed Ohio as one of the most corrupt states in the country. This has become the acceptable norm in Ohio.

Cronyism. It’s not about retaining seats to promote a political platform or to serve constituents. It’s about jobs. The money that comes from jobs. Money for friends. Money for family. Money for friends of family. It’s a quid pro quo disguised as a brilliant political strategy. Strategy is something Ohio Democrats have never heard of much less mastered as Republicans have.

Republican chair, Alex Triantifilou, flagrantly, summed it up like this in an interview with one of the last bastions of aggressive reporting, WVXU:

“Deters is the party’s No. 1 priority going into November. Deters understands that it’s about providing jobs for local Republicans in the prosecutor’s office. “I know what will happen if we’re not successful to the (Hamilton County Republican Party), and that’s the way politics is. “

In hindsight, Deters had a lot riding on his race against Fanon Rucker, far more than being a prosecutor.

Juvenile Court Judge Melissa Powers’ name has been floating around as Deters’ replacement since long before he even won re-election. Powers didn’t enter the 2020 race to retain her seat on the bench. Anonymous sources in the courthouse believed her judge duties were interfering with her frequent jaunts to Florida in her private jet for way too many 4-day weekends with her rich beau. Others believed that the recent successes Democrats have had winning judicial races were too much to stomach or her performance record as a juvenile court judge wasn’t going to play well on the campaign trail.

Judge Powers rode into office on the coattails of an entirely different political beast. She took the seat belonging to Judge Tracie Hunter who was forced out of office in a disturbing display of prosecutorial over-reach wherein 7 of 8 charges were rejected by the jury. Deters accused her of falsifying documents, theft, and 4 other claims that were unsubstantiated. She was convicted of only one, an unlawful interest in a public contract related to the employment of her brother by the court. Powers was Deters protégé and was set up to run for Hunter’s seat once convicted. Hunter’s losing opponent, John Williams, was temporarily appointed until the election.

Historical records of OSC judicial performance shows former Judge Tracie Hunter outperformed recent peers in Juvenile Court case closuresPhoto byWLWT.com

Deters repeatedly made public comments on her case and alleged, “Hunter didn't keep up with cases and she didn't get along with her colleagues, according to reports.” However, according to the Ohio Supreme Court’s website, Powers was one of the least productive judges in the state during her tenure, not Hunter. That many children languished in foster care while awaiting action from Judge Powers.

The OSC’s “performance measures” website reports key statistics to inform the public about their judge’s workload, productivity, and case results. The “overage” is a key indicator of judicial performance that is indicative of a judicial backlog. It reflects whether cases are promptly advancing through that judge's courtroom. The reporting shows that Hunter’s overage rate in her first year in office was less than 1%. By comparison, Judge Powers’ was 39.41%. When Hunter left office, that overage rate escalated due to being suspended from practice and fighting for her position, to 17%, then 31%. Whereas, Judge Powers has averaged about 39% over the course of her 4-year term. The Supreme Court’s records indicate that Judge Melissa Powers has the worst overage rate of any juvenile court judge in county history and is in the 75th percentile of worst records in the state. Had that been former Judge Tracie Hunter pulling those numbers, she’d have been criminally charged with felonies and literally dragged out of the courthouse.

Powers is being rewarded for her service record with a likely appointment as county prosecutor. At least staff in both offices are used to absent leadership while they pursue other monied interests.

Juvenile Court Judge Melissa Powers' performance measures as reported by the Ohio Supreme Court. Powers has an "overage" of 40%Photo byOhio Supreme Court Judicial Performance Measures

Powers is unable to keep up with her workload despite hiring Hunter’s opponent in the race, John Williams, as her personal assistant of some sort, (A public records request for his job description was requested. Powers’ office replied, “No such record exists.”). Williams’ record with the OSC is in the mid-30%, consistently. Additionally, both Powers and Williams were sued for violating the constitutional rights of abused children and juvenile delinquents, respectively. The Williams’ court and subsequently the Powers court were under a court-ordered consent decree to correct the issue. Unfortunately, now it's abused kids in foster care who are carrying that weight.

While powerful, wealthy politicians are playing musical chairs with political offices, the data shows that children are the ones who end up suffering and voters will rarely be able to pick their candidates much less a chair in the game.

To see how qualified your local judges really are, go to the link.

Retiring Juvenile Court Judge Melissa Powers seeking County Prosecutor job vacated by Joe Deters in a game of musical chairsPhoto byWLWT.com

(All these statistics are publicly available on the Ohio Supreme Court’s interactive website for “performance measures”.)

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