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Akron: Judge Terry takes stand in corruption trial

7:09 PM, Jun 8, 2011   |    comments
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AKRON -- Late Wednesday afternoon Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry took the stand in his own defense in his public corruption trial here in U.S. District Court.

Federal prosecutors concluded their case against Terry just after 1:30 p.m. today. The defense began presenting their case shortly before 2 p.m.

A minor medical emergency involving one of the attorneys delayed the start of the session Wednesday morning until 11:30 a.m.

Terry, 53, has been on leave from the bench since he was charged with five counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud on Sept. 15.

The case is still expected to go to the jury by the end of the court's session on Thursday or at the beginning of Friday's session.

Terry was stiil on the stand when court adjourned for the day Wednesday at 6 p.m. when his direct examination by his attorney Angelo Lonardo concluded.

Court is expected to go back into session about 8:30 a.m. Thursday when federal prosecutors start their cross-examination of Terry.

Terry has remained nearly motionless and expressionless in his seat at the defense table since the trial began. He has taken notes during the trial and his wife has been in the courtroom throughout the proceedings.

The first defense witness Wednesday afternoon was Latina Bailey, the former scheduler for Terry from Aug. 2007 until Nov. 2010. She testified that she never worked on Terry's political campaign at work or during her free time outside of work.

The next witness was CWRU law school Prof. Beatrice J. Hill, who testified as an expert on the rules of civil procedure in Ohio and that the summary judgment motions that Terry denied in the case that Russo talked to Terry about were "properly denied" by law.

The next witness was Terry's mother, Clover Elliott, 78, of Orange Village. She talked about her 50 years of political activism in Democratic politics, including working with then-Gov. Ted Strickland.

Just after 4 p.m, Terry took the stand.

He testified that a regional panel of seven local elected officials and Democratic Party members chose him and two others to be presented to Strickland for the bench appointment.

Terry said he knew then-Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo as "an arm of the (county) Democratic Party." He described him as "a very animated guy, very gregarious..."

Terry testified that Russo "...did offer to buy stationery and letterhead...and offered to buy car magnets to use in parades..." and that Russo did donate $500 to Terry's election campaign.

Terry also said he saw Russo as "a source of influence" in local Democratic politics.

When asked if Russo ever gave him access to his list of political contributors, Terry said "no."

Regarding the taped conversations between him and Russo regarding the summary judgments, Terry said the cases were then several years old and he wanted to clear them from his docket when he saw how old they were. 

Last week, Terry rejected rejected a plea deal from prosecutors and a jury was picked Friday. Strickkland appointed Terry to the bench on April 23, 2007, filling the vacated seat of Judge Mary Jane Boyle after Boyle was elected to a higher court.

He started his term on the bench on April 30, 2007. Terry faced his first election in 2008 and won.

One of the five charges against him accuses him of following a request from Russo to do a favor for him and deny motions for summary judgment in a case before him.

Terry denies the allegations, but prosecutors say he granted the favor in exchange for Russo's help in his 2008 election campaign.

Russo, as a witness for the prosecution Monday and Tuesday, testified under oath that he asked Terry to help a friend of his in at least one case, to "give him the benefit of the doubt," as Russo put it. Court records show that Terry denied the motions for summary judgment in that case.

When a prosecutor asked Russo how many judges over his career did he call and ask "to give you the benefit of the doubt?" Russo said "I would say approximately 10."

Russo also testified in March at the trial of former Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty. She lost her bid for re-election in November. A jury convicted her on all 10 counts of lying to the FBI and she is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.

Other than McCafferty and Terry, no other judges have been charged in the corruption probe to date, however some have been described and implicated in court documents but not specifically named.

Russo has already pleaded guilty and faces 21 years in prison in a plea agreement executed on Sept. 16, 2010. In that agreement, the government agreed not to press additional charges against Russo's son, Vincent; any other Russo family members; or Russo's domestic partner Michael Calabrese

In a second agreement executed on Nov. 12, Russo agreed to testify and gave information on other corruption probe defendants. For that, Russo said he hoped prosecutors would cut some time off his sentence.

On July 28, 2008, more than 200 FBI and IRS agents executed simultaneous raids on Cuyahoga County government offices, the homes of elected officials, and the homes and businesses of contractors who have done business with the county.

To date, 51 people have been charged in the probe and most have pleaded guilty. The three who have gone to trial, not including Terry, have all been found guilty.

About nine defendants are already serving time in prison, most are awaiting sentencing and two have died before they were sentenced.

WKYC-TV

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