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Portrait of Carl J. Mazzone
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Carl J. Mazzone

Candidate insights
  • Prosecuted major trials, including murder cases, for more than a dozen years.
  • Says a judge "cannot be afraid to make tough decisions."
Sitting Judge?
Admitted to practice law in Ohio
Previous jobs
Prosecutor, Private practice (civil)

You asked. They answered.

Carl J. Mazzone's responses to questions from the community.

As a judge, one tool you have is discretion. In one or two sentences, how will you use it?

Each case has its own individual facts, and each individual defendant is his or her own person. The judge has a lot of variables to consider when exercising his or her wide discretion in sentencing. If two individuals have been convicted of the same crime, but receive disparate sentences, the judge should be able to explain why, and keeping data on each case can ensure the judge is consistent in sentencing individuals on his own docket, and consistent among his or her peers within the County. This data is not merely a “skin-deep analysis” of things like race, gender, age and prior criminal history. After determining whether a conviction carries a mandatory prison sentence, or if the law mandates a probation sentence, the Court should analyze things like: How many non-merging counts, are there multiple cases, are there priors? If so, how many? How did the Defendant do on Court Supervised Release (if ordered). If prior probation, were there violations, were there periods of time where the Defendant was capias [order for arrest], was there prior incarceration on a prior case.

All these need to be considered in fashioning an appropriate sentence for an individual – to say nothing of the input from victims under Marsy’s Law. Furthermore, I plan to utilize the Uniform Sentencing Entry developed by a committee appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Uniform Sentencing Entry not only ensures that sentences are journalized properly as our sentencing code becomes increasingly complex and cumbersome, but also assists in keeping data so sentencing outcomes can be compared from county-to-county.

How would you keep your own biases and personal beliefs in check when deciding cases involving people of different races, economic or social backgrounds, identities or life experiences?

First, we have to recognize and acknowledge that we all have implicit biases, whether we believe it or not. I will make sure that my staff and I attend DEI training at least yearly to stay on top of best practices to recognize, acknowledge, confront and overcome implicit biases. During my 13 year career with the prosecutor's office, I have worked with individuals who run the entire racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic spectrum. Most often, however, the victims I have worked with (or their families in my homicide cases), are persons of color, and often do not share in many of the socioeconomic advantages that I have had. Many times, the victim, or victim's family members that I work with have felony records, or have been to prison. Occasionally, a family member of a homicide victim is someone that I have prosecuted in years past. Understanding that the victim of the crime I am prosecuting is/was a human being, with feelings, and with fears and questions about what is happening is paramount. I have approached each case with the mentality that I should be the prosecutor that I would want if my loved one were the victim of a crime.

As a judge, I would take the same approach, understanding that my role is not one of advocacy, but one of neutral judgment. Understanding that a criminal defendant has fear, and apprehension about what is happening in that courtroom. I will again treat that defendant as I would want to be treated as a human being. Would I be the type of judge that I would want to judge me? It's about understanding that a defendant with a prior criminal record is on trial for a DIFFERENT offense, and not prejudge them for what may have happened in the past – because the defendant is innocent of the crime charged – in spite of their prior criminal record – until proven guilty by the state. When convicted, I will consider ALL mitigation when determining sentencing – looking at the person as a whole, including any mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and any prior criminal history. My personal beliefs must be checked at the door. A judge's job is to apply the law – whether we agree with the law or not – and mete out justice fairly and equitably.

In recent years, Cuyahoga has made reforms to its bail system and reduced reliance on cash bail. Have they gone too far or not far enough? Why?

I believe Cuyahoga County's reforms to the bail system are on the right track. There is still room for improvement. Over the last several years – particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bail system has shifted away from cash bonds with a 10% provision on low-level non-violent offenses, to personal bonds with the use of Court Supervised Release, and/or the use of ankle monitoring. Today, most defendants in the county jail are held pending trial for either an Unclassified Felony (Aggravated Murder/Murder), or Felony 1, or Felony 2 offenses. Most of the defendants in jail on Felony 4, or Felony 5 offenses are there not because they cannot post a cash bond, but rather, because they have a holder on them by either the probation department and are awaiting a hearing on a violation, the Adult Parole Authority – also awaiting a hearing on a parole violation, are wanted in another jurisdiction and that jurisdiction has a holder on a warrant, or are individuals who are awaiting a bed to open up at a residential treatment facility (while the County Jail is not a pleasant place, it is probably better to have someone ordered to in patient treatment to be under supervision of professionals rather than out on the street where they may relapse while waiting for an available spot at a treatment facility).

There is room to improve on all stakeholders’ parts. When a defendant is charged with a Felony 1 or 2, oftentimes it is based on an initial police report without the follow up investigation completed – ergo, what initially sounds like a Felony 1 or 2 offense on arrest, is really a lower level offense, or is worked out to a lower level offense. The Court, which always has jurisdiction over bond, should be more proactive in discussing review of bail with the parties. Defense attorneys should be more diligent in filing reduction motions as discovery progresses and a fuller picture of the incident becomes more clear. The prosecutor's office should, when possible, refrain from directly indicting higher felonies (where a defendant is not in custody) until a full investigation is completed.

The bottom line is that absent a hold on a Defendant, individuals who do not pose a threat to the community, or themselves, should not be detained in the County Jail awaiting trial.

Should judges be elected? Why or why not? If not, how do you think judges should be chosen?

The law in the State of Ohio is that we elect our judges. While it gives the public a direct say in who becomes a judge, many voters select judges based on name, or at random, or – worst of all, ignore those races altogether. This system is why we have so many judges with similar surnames, and no matter how many outlets discuss ending the so-called "name game" this is the reality of our system and we all must deal with it. I am experiencing this in my own race. I am running in an open seat, but my opponent, who has been a sitting judge for 27 years is also running for this open seat because when their term ends in early 2027 they cannot run again due to Ohio's age limit. She has an incredibly familiar ballot name which, in spite of all the endorsements I have earned over the last several months, is still a major hurdle to overcome. If I win, my opponent still has the privilege of serving as a judge for another two full years, and if I don't, my opponent gets a new, full, six year term, and is permitted to circumvent the mandatory retirement for an additional four years, and sit on the bench until 2031.

I would favor a system similar to what Missouri has done since the 1940s. Under the nonpartisan court plan, any person who meets certain constitutional requirements may apply for a judicial vacancy. From that pool of applicants, a commission consisting of citizens, attorneys and a judge selects three candidates for the judicial vacancy. The commission forwards these candidates' names to the governor, who then selects a judge from among the three candidates. After the judge has served on the bench for at least a year, the judge stands for retention by the voters at the next general election. A simple majority of "yes" votes suffices to keep the judge in office for a full term. Unlike judges in the federal system, judges in Missouri do not serve for life. Regardless of whether they are elected or selected under the nonpartisan court plan, a judge serves only a specified term of years, which varies from four years to 12 years depending on the level of the court on which the judge sits. In addition, the Missouri constitution requires all state judges to retire at age 70. In the retention election, the Missouri Bar for years has attempted to fill this information gap by surveying lawyers who appear before the judges who are on the ballot. The judges are rated on a number of factors – including knowledge of the law, courtesy and judicial temperament – and the results of the survey are publicized widely.

This system has been adopted, in some form, in more than 30 states for its virtues, including the screening of candidates for their qualifications. Its eradication of partisan contested elections for the judicial offices to which it applies also eliminates the need to raise money, seek political endorsements, and conduct regional or statewide campaigns for partisan contested elections.

Cuyahoga County has programs to give people a chance to avoid conviction and jail for certain crimes. How well do you think these programs work? Would you like to see any other kinds of programs?

Based on my experience, these programs are working as well but can be improved and expanded. Today, we are diverting more cases than ever before through traditional diversion programs. In the last decade, we have added three additional drug court dockets, two additional mental health dockets, and expanded the criteria for diversion, as well as intervention in lieu of conviction (a diversion program for those with substance abuse issues that lead to the crimes they committed) in order to serve more defendants, and not just first time offenders. We have added a Violence Intervention Program, and a Veterans Treatment Court. The court's first and foremost function on the criminal side should be to advocate for rehabilitation of offenders. And that is to say nothing of the Re-Entry Court program founded in 2007 that continues to change and improve lives.

What I would like to see is a program where we can connect probationers to the trade unions. Oftentimes defendant's I've dealt with have stated that they "rehab houses" or do "demolition work" under the table. If we can set up a program where individuals with interests in carpentry, masonry, etc. and connect them with apprentice programs with our trade unions (who are experiencing a shortage of skilled labor) we can really set some folks up for success – not only with a skilled trade, but union membership with healthcare, some job security, and a path to upward mobility.

How would you grapple with handing down a decision that would upset a victim or their family, or a defendant or their family?

A judge cannot be afraid to make tough decisions, and I will not shy away from that responsibility.

As a prosecutor handling homicide cases, I have to have difficult discussions with families of murder victims on a weekly basis. Since the legislature changed the self-defense laws several years ago, our office now has a committee that reviews homicide cases (often before they're charged) to determine if a self-defense claim is likely. I have had dozens of terribly difficult conversations with the families of those victims to tell them we will not be charging the case in the death of their family member. I also often have to explain to families that a case will likely result in a plea agreement that will not reflect what they believe the sentencing outcome can be. These conversations, almost without exception, bring raw emotion out. But as a prosecutor my job is to do justice, no matter how difficult, as it is the State who brings the case. Not the victim's family. I have never been afraid to have these difficult conversations.

As a judge, I will have to exercise the same courage to make decisions that are just, and not necessarily popular. I will also make sure that those decisions are made with care, and a thorough explanation on the record so that everyone can understand how I arrived at that decision. Litigation is difficult. Nobody will ever walk away feeling whole. Understanding that going into the role is critical.