Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates will continue to preside over the capital murder case of a man charged in the 2011 asphyxiation deaths of a Springfield Township couple, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled Friday.
In a seven-page opinion, Justice Maureen O'Connor denied the affidavit of disqualification filed by the lawyers of Cameo Pettaway. The affidavit had asked that Judge Bates be disqualified because he is the husband of Prosecutor Julia Bates and because of comments made during judicial orders.
Justice O'Connor disagreed. "A judge is presumed to follow the law and not to be biased, and the appearance of bias or prejudice must be compelling to overcome these presumptions," she wrote, quoting case law. She added: "Those presumptions have not been overcome in this case."
Judge Bates declined to comment on the ruling but in a response to the initial filing, he called the request "a ploy for appeal" and noted the "11th-hour" nature of the request, which was filed just weeks before Mr. Pettaway's initial trial date.
Mr. Pettaway, 22, of 133 Essex St. and co-defendant Samuel Williams, 24, of 1626 Kelsey Ave. are charged in the Jan. 31, 2011, asphyxiation deaths of Lisa Straub and Johnny Clarke. The pair were found bound by duct tape, with plastic bags over their heads, in the Longacre Lane home of Ms. Straub's parents.
Although a trial date was originally set for Tuesday, Judge Bates this week scheduled a new trial date in July, noting that the case was on hold pending the Supreme Court decision. The new trial date is July 17.
In her opinion, Justice O'Connor reviewed each of the claims made in the affidavit for disqualification filed May 14 by attorneys Merle Dech and Mark Geudtner. In particular, she noted the claim that Judge Bates used "incendiary" words in a judgment entry denying interim payment to a mitigation expert, in which he wrote that the fees were "a form of extortion upon the court."
"While Judge Bates' remark was ill-advised, it does not convey the impression that he has reached a 'fixed anticipatory judgment' that will prevent him from presiding over the case with an 'open state of mind … governed by the law and the facts,' " the opinion stated. "Moreover, affiants have offered no evidence that the judge's comments have caused a 'chilling effect' on their ability to mount a proper defense. The record before this court reflects that Judge Bates has approved three separate funding requests from the defense, for a total of $21,000."
Mr. Dech and Mr. Geudtner could not be reached for comment late Friday. Attorneys have in the past declined to comment on issues in the case, citing a gag order imposed by the court.
Mr. Pettaway's co-defendant, whose case has been assigned to Judge Dean Mandros, also appeared in court Friday. After a brief hearing, Judge Mandros scheduled a pretrial session Tuesday for Williams, when pending issues such as a new trial date are to be addressed.
Also noted in court was an issue arising from the recent discovery of a new witness, who might create conflict. Specifically, Judge Mandros said the witness is represented in unrelated criminal matters by John Thebes, who is one of Williams' attorneys. The judge asked that the issue be researched for potential conflict of interest and said it will be addressed at Tuesday's hearing.
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