Cera proposes judges join privacy list for addresses

State bill comes following shooting of Judge Bruzzese

STEUBENVILLE — State Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, has cosponsored a law adding judges to the list of people who can request their home address be removed from certain county records available on the Internet.

According to current state law, a police officer, parole officer, probation officer, bailiff, prosecuting attorney, assistant prosecuting attorney, correctional employee, youth services employee, firefighter, emergency medical technician, investigator of the bureau of criminal investigation or federal law enforcement officer may request that a public office, other than a county auditor, redact the address from any record made available to the general public on the Internet.

Judges aren’t included on the list, and their home addresses are listed on the websites of Jefferson County government offices.

Cera said following the shooting of Bruzzese, state Rep. Stephen A. Huffman, R- Miami, contacted him about cosponsoring a bill to add judges to the list.

Cera said House Bill 341 helps protect the personal information of Ohio’s judges in order to keep them and their families safe from disgruntled individuals who wish them harm.

“While there is no guarantee that this legislation would have prevented the recent attack on Judge Bruzzese, it certainly serves as a safety measure. It gives judges the same exemptions that many other public servants receive under Ohio law,” said Cera.

“Under current law, judges do not have the option to redact their information from public records. After the appalling attack on Judge Bruzzese in Steubenville, we have seen the need to protect our judges from life-threatening situations,” said Huffman.

Cera noted the Ohio Judicial Conference, the statewide judicial organization consisting of all Ohio judges, has long advocated for such a change.

Cera said it was strange that judges weren’t on the list.

“I would have thought they would have been one of the first on there,” he said.

“It may not stop any and all attacks, but you have to worry about their families,” Cera said.

Cera believes the Ohio House will hear testimony on the proposal when session reconvenes in the fall.

Cera said there may be some pushback on the proposed legislation by the secretary of state’s office because of the belief that voters have a right to know if judicial candidates meet residency requirements. He said that is the job of the county board of elections.

Steubenville Municipal Court Judge John J. Mascio said there is no way to 100 percent protect judges.

He said Cera’s proposed legislation “certainly a step in the right direction in terms of advertising that sort of thing. It is a precaution. I don’t see a need to advertise where judges live.”

Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Michelle Miller said Cera’s proposed bill balances transparency of government with safety issues.

“I think it is timely, and, in the manner in which he introduced it, legitimately balances the need for transparency of government while recognizing safety issues that are often created out of transparency,” Miller said.

Toronto county court Judge Lisa Ferguson said she doesn’t believe her home address should be a matter of public record.

“I think it is a good thing,” she said of Cera’s proposed bill.

“If I were able to keep my address from being out there, I would do that. It could make a difference. It is not just about protecting me, it is about protecting my family,” she said.

Ferguson said she is aware of security issues facing judges, but noted what happened to Bruzzese was “very unusual.”

Probate-Juvenile Judge Joseph Corabi said it is a good idea to remove addresses from public websites.

“It is sad that people have so little respect for the law. There are processes in place if you disagree with a judge’s decision. You can appeal it. When people take the law into their own hands, then you have anarchy,” Corabi said.

He said he wasn’t offended judges weren’t on the list, but her certainly doesn’t oppose judges being added.

“I don’t think judges are at the same risk compared to cops and prosecutors. We are the last rung on the ladder. The fate of most people is sealed long before they get to the court,” he said.

Cera said he wouldn’t be surprised that most police officers and prosecutors aren’t even aware of the law that they can have their home addresses redacted from certain public records available on the Internet.

(Law can be contacted at mlaw@heraldstaronline.com.)


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