CLEVELAND — UPDATE: Following Judge Russo's statement, county officials stated that they will include someone from the the common pleas court on the panel to select a new sheriff.
Following Cuyahoga County's decision to create a screening committee with the goal of finding a permanent sheriff, Judge John J. Russo has fired back against officials for not including a sitting court of common pleas judge on a panel that will select someone to work so closely with the county court system.
Russo is the presiding judge of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
“The selection of a new sheriff is a choice that will have ramifications for our court and the citizens of Cuyahoga County for years to come,” Russo said in a statement provided to News 5.
The panel was announced Wednesday when the county sent out a news release about its creation, as well as its appointment of Interim Sheriff Byan Smith, a lieutenant with the sheriff's office.
The panel consists of:
• Judge Ronald Adrine (former Administrative Judge, Cleveland Municipal Court)
• Susan Neth (CEO, FrontLine Service)
• Police Chief Kelly Stillman, Rocky River
• Police Chief Edward Tomba, Middleburg Heights (former Deputy Chief, Cleveland Police)
• Dr. Reginald A. Wilkinson (Director (Ret.), Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction)
• Dr. Sherrie Williams (Board Member, Cuyahoga County Board of Health)
The panel is responsible for interviewing sheriff candidates and presenting their feedback to County Executive Armond Budish, who will nominate the chosen person, a county spokesperson stated in a release Wednesday.
“To not have a sitting common pleas judge, duly elected by the citizens of Cuyahoga County, as part of the advisory panel is incomprehensible; no entity works closer with the sheriff’s department and its deputies in dealing with Justice Center security and the health and welfare of those who come before us,” Russo said.
Not only was a county common pleas judge not selected as part of the panel, the common pleas court wasn’t even notified of the panel’s creation, Russo said. It wasn’t until the announcement was shared by the media that Russo said he learned about it.
According to Ohio Revised Code, one of the main responsibilities of a sheriff is the “protection of the common pleas court, the court’s employees, members of the public who have business before the court and, most importantly, the accused who appear before the court,” Russo said.
Following the panel’s creation, Russo reached out to county officials but said hasn’t received a respond back.
The common pleas court “has no objections to the current members of the advisory panel” as the members are all well-known and respected individuals, Russo said, adding that the common pleas court needs to be part of the hiring process of the sheriff who will work so closely with the court.
“In my six years as administrative judge, I have worked to improve cooperation and communication between the court, the county, and the stakeholders of the justice system. For the court not be included in this critical selection process is not only disappointing, but also troubling,” Russo said.