Former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Bridget McCafferty has been indefinitely suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court for violations of several Rules of Professional Conduct and Rules of Judicial Conduct.
McCafferty was snared in the FBI’s investigation into corruption among public officials and public employees in and around Cuyahoga County. While investigating several targets, most notably Cuyahoga County Commissioner James Dimora and County Auditor Frank Russo, the FBI intercepted thousands of phone calls, including calls in which McCafferty revealed she had used (or intended to use) her influence as a judge to advance the interests of Dimora, Russo and local businessman Steve Pumper. When FBI agents questioned her about Dimora, Russo, and Pumper, McCafferty denied that she had ever attempted to use her influence and position to help them. McCafferty maintained her innocence even after the FBI agents informed her about the recorded phone calls.
McCafferty was indicted, tried and convicted on 10 counts of violating 18 USC 1001 (false statements to federal law enforcement). She served a year in federal prison in West Virginia, followed by three years of probation.
In 2012, the Ohio Supreme Court imposed an interim felony suspension. The Ohio State Bar Association then filed an ethics complaint against McCafferty in 2013.
The parties stipulated that McCafferty’s conduct and federal conviction constitute violations of Ohio Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4, as well as Judicial Conduct Rules 1.1 (compliance with the law) and 1.2 (competence of judiciary). McCafferty disputed that her conduct violated Judicial Conduct Rules 1.3 (abuse of prestige of judicial office) and 2.4 (influence of private interests on the judge).
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the board that McCafferty had violated these rules. The Court, however, disagreed with the Bar Association that permanent disbarment was the appropriate sanction, finding instead that McCafferty’s dishonesty with FBI agents was not part of a pattern of premeditated criminal conduct.
Justice Lanzinger, joined by Chief Justice O’Connor and Justice French, dissented, agreeing with the Bar Association that McCafferty should be permanently disbarred.