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Judge apologizes, recuses self for ordering defendant's mouth to be duct-taped after outburst

Posted at 4:42 PM, Aug 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-06 16:53:39-04

Last week, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge ordered to have a man's mouth duct-taped shut after he made several outbursts in the courtroom during his sentencing hearing. On Monday, the judge apologized for his choice of action and recused himself from the case.

Franklyn Williams was in court on July 31 for a sentencing hearing on robbery, aggravated theft, and having weapons while under disability charges. At that time, Judge John Russo sentenced Williams to 24 years in prison. Williams was facing a maximum sentence of 134 years in prison, according to the judge.

However, Williams' sentencing will now have to go through a new judge, because Judge Russo has recused himself. Whoever takes over this case does not have to issue the same sentence.

In a letter read in court on Monday, Judge Russo said he was concerned last week's hearing eroded the trust he and others in the legal system have worked to build.

"In retrospect, while there is legal precedent for gagging a defendant to keep order in a court, I apologize for taking that action last week," Judge Russo's letter said.

The letter also states he only resorted to duct-taping Williams' mouth after exhausting all other attempts to restore order. Judge Russo said Williams' frequent and offensive outbursts totaled over 60 interruptions in 54 minutes.

"As the court is the foundation of justice and fairness, it was my responsibility, to take control of the hearing," Judge Russo said in his letter. "As the court is the foundation of justice and fairness, a judge has the responsibility to maintain control of the legal processes that occur. Knowing that the defendant is required to be present at the time of sentencing, I acted with those principles in mind."

While Judge Russo continued to say he feels he can remain fair and impartial in this case, he said some are concerned about whether his actions in court last week were fair and just. As a result, he has chosen to recuse himself to maintain confidence in the justice system and leave out any questions of bias in this case.

"To my colleagues on the bench in Cuyahoga County, and the 700+ judges in the state of Ohio, I regret any impact or repercussions from my actions last week," Judge Russo said. "I never want the fairness and justice you deliver in your courtrooms to be questioned, no matter the circumstances."

Judge Russo asked the Ohio Supreme Court to appoint a new judge to conduct Williams' sentencing.

As Williams' was walking out of court after Judge Russo's announcement, he yelled, "Freedom of speech. Duct tape. Hashtag."