Judge recuses himself from Catawba break-in case

19-year-old Port Clinton man allegedly broke in to state representative Redfern's home.
Alex Green
Feb 6, 2014
Ottawa County Common Pleas Court Judge Bruce Winters recused himself from the case involving Alexander Reitzel, who’s accused of trying to break into State Rep. Chris Redfern’s $840,000 home in Catawba.
 
Winters declined to offer a reason for stepping away from the case, other than saying the case is pending.
 
”If I go into (why), I’m afraid it may somehow impact the case with the next judge,” Winters said.
 
Ottawa County Common Pleas Court records show Winters recused himself because of an unstated conflict of interest.
 
The Ohio Supreme Court will appoint a visiting judge to hear the case.
 
The case has been littered with controversy from the start, as Reitzel’s defense attorney, Tom DeBacco, blasted the charges as “politically motivated” because of Redfern’s status.
 
Reitzel, 19, of Port Clinton, was indicted Dec. 12 on two counts of attempted burglary, five days after he allegedly tried to break into Redfern’s home. 
 
DeBacco said the timing of the indictment was highly questionable and the felony charges were far too severe.
 
“In no way did (Reitzel) try to break into Chris Redfern’s house,” DeBacco said previously. “There was a ‘for sale’ sign in the front yard. You figure it out.”
DeBacco was disappointed to hear of Winters’ recusal.
 
”He’s a fair and honorable judge,” DeBacco said. “I’m sorry to hear (about it).”
 
DeBacco said he is not completely sure why Winters is recusing himself, although he said he will investigate to see if it involved any foul play from the opposing party.
 
Ottawa County prosecutor Mark Mulligan was unavailable for comment Wednesday, as his office was closed. 
 
Mulligan previously called DeBacco’s accusations of political cahoots “unsubstantiated.”
 
Mulligan and Redfern both said Reitzel was recorded by video surveillance cameras at Redfern’s property. 
 
Reitzel was on the property for more than an hour, and Redfern was able to watch from Pennsylvania, where he was on vacation, because the surveillance cameras were viewable remotely.
 
The case is set for a pretrial hearing Thursday. 
 
 

Comments

Babo

It's extremely disappointing that Judge Winters did not provide a reason for his recusal from this case. The lack of a reason for recusal may lead to speculation by citizens that compounds the prior strong appearance of politics in this case.

Judge Winters is related to Prosecutor Mulligan. They are cousins and both members of the Democratic party probably beholden in some respect to Chairman Redfern. However, his family tie to the Prosecutor and politics have not been a problem in the past when there wasn't much scrutiny.

My guess is Judge Winters wants off this political hot potato case because he will be pressured by Mulligan and Redfern to rule in their favor and he doesn't want the publicity. By recusing himself, he thinks he creates an appearance that he is trying to be fair when really he is telling the community he can't be fair when his political cronies are involved. If that's the case Judge Winters shouldn't hear any criminal cases in the County.

His recusal leaves the door open for Judge Winters to request a specific judge from the Ohio Supreme Court stable of retired judges be assigned. In all probability (because he or she wants to keep receiving assignments and payments) the retired judge will not truly be impartial but will favor the government yet everyone can claim there is no bias.

This case reeks more than ever of selective prosecution and abuse of power. Remember this is the same county where the Federal government had to prosecute the Sheriff for theft in office because the Prosecutor (and Common Pleas Court Judge) saw nothing wrong with the Sheriff abusing office for personal gain.

Maggdi

What!?!
I was just getting ready to write a 'kudos' to the fact that all the characters in this tabloid were nonpartisan elected/appointed officials.
Except for Redfern.
I certainly wouldn't want to be seen as a partisan hack! Things 'happen' to those individuals.
I'm sure that there are no circumstances that the primaries involved would risk their reputations and careers to help carry out politically associated retribution./

therealrules13

Kudos for doing the right thing. And just to clarify, a prosecutor has sole discretion who gets charged with a crime, the judge has no say.

Babo

Your statements are not true. The Judge is supposed to provide a reason for his recusal. Further, police officers ordinarily charge people with crimes while a prosecutor controls the Grand Jury.

The lack of charges from police was the problem with this case from the beginning. Local police saw no reason to charge the defendant with even a misdemeanor in Municipal Court. However, the prosecutor at the request of Mr. Redfern took this case immediately to the grand jury and indicted the "ham sandwich" for burglary very quickly while more serious crimes do not merit attention.

Also, The Judge has the authority to dismiss a case upon motion from the defendant based on constitutional violations such as selective prosecution. In fact the Judge is supposed to act as the check on abuses by prosecutors of Defendant's rights.

The Defendant's lawyer raised the issue of selective prosecution and a political vendetta upon the Indictment. Certainly he was going to file a Motion to Dismiss if he hasn't already done so and it is that motion that is the political hot potato.

Julie R.

Do these joke judges really think that the sheep don't know when they "recuse" themselves and bring in an "appointed" judge that the appointed retired judge is going to be paid big bucks to rule exactly as the recused judge and prosecutor tell him to?

Babo

Here's the recent docket entries in the case:

01/15/2014 ◦MOTION FOR PRODUCTION OF UNEDITED SECURITY FOOTAGE/MOTION
◦TO REVEAL EDITING/MOTION FOR PRODUCTION FOR EXPERT REVIEW
◦EVIDENTIARY HEARING REQUESTED FILED (T DEBACCO)
◦(SENT DOWN IN FOLDER)
◦FAX FEES CHARGED (SENT BY ATTNY: THOMAS J DEBACCO)
◦HEARING SET FOR 02/13/2014 AT 09:00 AM TYPE HRI
01/21/2014 ◦SUBPOENA ISSUED TO REDFERN, CHRIS
01/31/2014 ◦WRIT RTRND, ENDSD & FILED. RECVD WRIT ON 1/22/14 FOR
◦SERVICE OF SUBPOENA UPON CHRIS REDFERN SERVED ON 1/30/14 BY
◦PERSONAL SERVICE.
◦RVICE BY DEP CARPENTER,J OC DEP SHERIFF RHONDA STCLAIR

◦1 PG) JUDGE WINTERS HEREBY RECUSES HIMSELF DUE TO A CONFLICT
◦OF INTEREST; LETTER HAS BEEN SENT TO THE OHIO SUPREME COURT
◦ASKING THEM TO APPOINT A VISTING JUDGE TO HEAR THIS CASE
◦(COPY TO PROS, PROB AND T DEBACCO)
◦COPY FEE X 4

02/06/2014 ◦CORRESPENDANCE FILED (C REDFERN)

Note that the Defendant's lawyer filed a Motion for an unedited copy of the tapes and issued a subpoena to Chris Redfern. He also requested an evidentiary hearing on the matter. He appears to be suggesting that Mr. Redfern may have manipulated the tapes in some way.

Judge Winters recuses himself on the same date that Redfern is served a subpoena after granting the hearing request on the evidence. He claims a conflict of interest but he doesn't provide the nature of the conflict.

On February 6, 2014, (yesterday) correspondence from Chris Redfern to the Court was filed in the case. Speculating, it appears that Mr. Redfern sent a letter to the Judge and the Judge ordered it filed.

So it appears there is more than just the hot issue of selective prosecution but a suggestion of tampering or altering evidence.

Also, Judge Winters requested a Judge from the Ohio Supreme Court to be assigned specifically to the case despite the fact that he has several judges that he requests who are already assigned to cover his court in the event of conflict, vacation, illness etc. Thus, there is no legitimate reason to spend more tax dollars for a retired visiting judge in this case.

Unassumer

First of all, the 19-year-old did not break into the jerk's home. He was looking in windows and tried a door handle. He never gained access to the home, which was listed for sale and was empty. This case is an aggregious waste of taxpayer money and only being pushed forward to satisfy Redfern. There have been much worse violations of the law overlooked in Ottawa County because of familiarity with the families involved. Obviously this kid is not from an important enough family.

Stonecrusher

I find it very interesting that at the same time Judge Winters recused himself, Chris Redfern posted on his Facebook page that a candidate he endorsed for Common Please Judge would be running unopposed for Judge Winters seat. Both Winters and challenger Lorraine Croy are Democrats. Does this mean that Winters will not seek re-election and if so, is there something more sinister at work here?

Babo

Wow, this is very interesting. Guess, we know the reason for his recusal as Chris Redfern the Dem Party Chairman endorsed his opponent in the primary. The Indictment arose on December 12, 2013 in Judge Winters court, and Croy announced her candidacy for judge around December 13, 2013 with the blessing of Chris Redfern.

Croy was Judge Winters' magistrate until he fired her for "dishonesty and disloyalty to the court" in January 2012. She also worked for Prosecutor Mulligan as felony prosecutor before becoming a Magistrate.

She now works for Tom Stierwalt in Sandusky County as his felony prosecutor. That means she should have been consulted about presentation to the grand jury of the Vitte case.

Glaringly absent from her endorsements are Mark Mulligan prosecutor and Clerk of Courts Gary Kohli. The former clerk of courts Jennifer Wilkins is her campaign treasurer.

Obviously there is a big split in the Democratic Party in Ottawa County as it is very rare for a political party to back a contender against a sitting judge of the same party. Maybe the open federal case against former Sheriff Bratton (D) and the length of time until he is sentenced (May 28, 2014 after the primary) has some role in the fissure. Got to believe Bratton is singing like a canary.

Babo

Today's (2-9-2014) Ottawa County register is reporting that Croy is unopposed in the Democratic Primary and there is no Republican candidate for the seat. The newspaper didn't note that the incumbent judge heretofore a Democrat who ran with the party's blessing is not running as a democrat.

Maybe he will file as an Independent. If there's a split in the Dem party in Ottawa County, it would make no sense to run in the primary but to run as an independent incumbent judge. He could run on a platform of he's not the machine candidate and that politics won't run his court.

From the looks of Croy's endorsements and her work for Tom Stierwalt in Sandusky County, she is vulnerable to a charge of putting politics ahead of justice.

SR, if you are reading these comments, you need to place Ottawa County political stories on line and ask more questions of political officer holders. There's potentially a big story here especially in view of the former Sheriff's still open Fed case.

DGMutley

Redfern needs re-review his tapes and the charges against Reitzel. I don't think he's doing himself any favors by pushing felony charges against this 19 year old. Felony tags are for life. Is this really what Redfern wants?

Julie R.

If the attorneys in the black robes are supposed to provide a reason when they recuse themselves, why are they all getting away without doing it? In Erie County, they even get away without giving a reason when they REFUSE to recuse themselves. They even get away with dismissing legitimate complaints without ever addressing them and they don't provide the reason there, either. (not that it takes a rocket scientist to know the unlawful reason) Now that the Erie County Clerk of Court's records are online, I noticed that crap was going on even back when that joke Maschari was a judge.

bayshore

If Mr. Redfern was so concerned about what he was monitoring on his security camera, for an hour, why didn't he contact the authorities to check out the situation?