Welcome to Painesville. In this aptly named Ohio town, Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti ordered Diamond Gaston, an assault suspect who pepper-sprayed someone in the face at a fast-food restaurant, that she could choose between 30 days in jail or be pepper-sprayed by her victim. Cicconetti then had the pepper-spray replaced with harmless saline spray without telling Gaston.
Cicconetti seems to think that his substitution of the water somehow moves this order into the realm of an appropriate action by a judge. It does not. Cicconetti is one of a growing number of judges who are converting our courts into theaters of the absurd for the enjoyment of the public and the vainglory of themselves. I am not even sure what this theatrics proved. Gaston pepper-sprayed someone. A spray with water does not actually cover the experience or constitute justice for the victim.
In another case that week, Cicconetti found another source of playful enjoyment: sentencing a woman who failed to pay a cab driver was given a choice between jail time or paying $100 restitution and walking 30 miles. She chose the walk with a GPS devise. He has sentenced people to look at dead bodies or play music like a judicial Caesar.
The fault is not simply in Cicconetti, who should not be on the bench of any court of any kind. It rests with the Ohio bar which continues to fail to take action against such abusive jurists.
If these allegations are true (and he does have prior convictions), the proper response is increased jail time, injunctive relief, and the possible escalation to a felony offense. These shaming punishments degrade our legal system and turn judges into little Caesars meting out their own justice to the thrill of the public. We have seen judges force people to cut their hair in their courtroom or clean their court bench with a toothbrush. These sentences make justice a form of public entertainment and allow judges to turn their courtrooms into their own macabre productions. While judges talk a good game about their effort to be creative, they clearly enjoy this role and the publicity that comes from making people demean themselves. It appeals to the lowest common denominator of our society and unfortunately there are many who enjoy to see others degraded. Indeed, some appear to be working through their own serious issues or yielding to their own emotional impulses in punishments like forcing people to cut their hair in their courtroom or wearing signs that the judge herself creates over the weekend (as discussing in prior stories). I believe this trend is a direct result of faux court programs like Judge Judy and Judge Brown (who was recently arrested himself) where people are yelled at or taunted by the court. We are losing the distinction between entertainment and the law. The result is a loss of professionalism and consistency in sentencing. I have long advocated for bar associations to move against judges like Williams-Byer and consider removal over such abusive sentencing. Little has been done. Judges bask in national coverage and develop a taste for the attention and accolades. Absent an effort by the bar, this trend will grow and our court system will increasingly add these circus like scenes for public enjoyment.
Cicconetti stated to the media: “I wouldn’t do anything illegal. Will there be maybe some public feedback or whatever? I don’t care. I do whatever I think is right.” That much is clear, the question is whether the Ohio bar and court system will do what is right and remove “Judge” Cicconetti.