Judges faces difficult choices. Into their courtrooms come bad actors, even the worst of the worst. So at times judges have reason to feel vulnerable, to worry about their safety, no matter the security that often surrounds them.
At the same time, judges must exercise discretion, especially in view of the authority they wield, real and perceived. Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands of the Summit County Common Pleas Court objected to a comment on this newspaper’s website, a reader reacting to a jury acquitting the defendant in a murder trial in which Rowlands presided. The comment targeted the judge and Sherri Bevan Walsh, the county prosecutor: “Rowlands and Bevan Walsh hopefully they will be the victims of this guy the next time.”
Offensive? Yes. Threatening? Not directly. It is a long way from harsh words to an act of violence. When Rowlands complained, this newspaper removed the comment and banned the author. But the episode didn’t stop there.
The judge alerted the sheriff’s office. The prosecutor became involved. An investigation ensued, resulting last week in the firing of the elections board employee who posted the comment. He even had a visit at his home from sheriff’s deputies.
The elections board must act as it sees fit in enforcing its policies. What troubles is the decision of Judge Rowlands to set all of this in motion. It invites questions about whether she overstepped, even abused her power, a sheriff or a prosecutor, especially of the same political party, less likely to raise doubts about proceeding.
In the end, Brad Gessner of the prosecutor’s office, noted “there’s no crime for being a windbag.” Which is something a judge would do well to weigh carefully before taking steps that lead to the deployment of tight county resources.