CLEVELAND, OH – Attorney Joseph Russo has twice been “convicted” for assaulting a woman who said he called her a “whore” during a drunken public argument, but he’s the endorsed Democrat for a seat on the Cleveland Municipal Court around the same time ex-judge Lance Mason is on his way to prison for beating his wife once and then killing her.
The Democrats who embraced Mason’s early release from prison at the request of his ex-wife, Aisha Mason, were met with scorn by former reporters like WKYC’s Tom Meyer. Mason was hounded. His employer, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, became the subject of a Meyer news story as Mason attempted a return to the community and a normal life after serving time in prison. Unlike the white elected officials whose crimes in office he ignored, Meyer villified Mason.
Russo’s presence as a candidate for a Cleveland judgeship has failed to generate a single “derogatory” media headline or “top of the news” story.
Unlike Mason no local reporter is questioning if Russo, a “white” male of Italian American descent, will beat another woman or kill her as he asks Cleveland’s majority black voters to let him now judge and sentence them. The judges who sentenced him are not being questioned over his repeat offenses.
The decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio to temporarily strip Russo of his law license isn’t being questioned.
An examination of the records and local media reports connected to Russo’s drunken acts of domestic violence reveal even more “double standards” in how Mason and his late wife were treated. Officials and the media allowed Russo and Carol Vezina to classify the crimes they committed in public in Westlake as a “private matter” between two troubled individuals who needed help.
Unlike Aisha Mason there were no details about the extent of Vezina’s injuries shared with the public. The extent of the violence between them was minimized.
The two incidents were summarized in the state Supreme Court’s decision to let Russo keep law license. The “public” parts of the incident between Mason and his wife and Russo and his girlfriend are eerily simliar.
On September 5, 2006 the Supreme Court’s report showed Russo and Vezina getting into an argument after attending a cop’s funeral and then stopping at a restaurant where they ate and drank. They were drunk. Russo was driving.
They got into an argument while Russo was drunk and driving and started swinging at each other; irresponsibly endangering the lives of others. The drunken judge and law enforcement officer drove to a BP gas station in Westlake close to 3 a.m.
The fight between them continued and the BP station clerk called Westlake police. Both were arrested at the time Russo was a county juvenile court judge judging children for acts of violence similar to his own.
The drunken drive from the restaurant to the BP was ignored. Russo was charged with “disorderly conduct-intoxicated.” Nothing for the violence. He paid a $100 fine. Minor misdemeanor. No criminal record. Russo avoided the OVI and kept his driver’s license. What he also avoided was a “domestic violence” charge because the ex-judge and Vezina did not live together.
On the 4th of July in 2007 when Russo and Vezina got into a bloody battle at their condo at 1957 Savannah Parkway in Westlake the nature of their relationship had changed and they were living as a couple. Court records show Russo took Vezina to get her nails done. He waited for her at the Savannah Bar and started drinking.
After her beauty treatment Vezina joined Russo at the Savannah. He’d already been drinking. She joined him. Court records show he kept drinking.
After Russo and Vezina got drunk they became ghetto loud and starting arguing in the Savannah. They left and court records claim they “walked” home. The arguing didn’t stop even around their Westlake condo neighbors once the battling couple returned to their shared residence.
Inside their shared condo court records describe how blood was drawn between the sitting Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court judge and his live-in girlfriend during a violent physical fight that included punching, biting and scratching. Russo hit Venzina so hard her body was bruised. Police saw bite and scratch marks on the juvenile court judge.
But the Supreme Court’s judges omitted the locations of Vezina’s bruises and extent of her wounds. There’s no mention of medical reports as the violence against her “in the record” appears to be minimized.
After the bloody and brutal violence a drunken Russo fled the condo and checked himself into a Holiday Inn. The Supreme court report appears to have ignored whether he drove, walked or caught a cab to the hotel. Uber didn’t exist in 2007. A neighbor thought the loud screaming and violence was so disturbing police were called at 2:54 a.m.
Police acknowledged how a tearful Vezina stood outside the condo waiting for their arrival. She signed a domestic violence temporary protection order against the judge and Westlake cops went to find him.
The state’s top judges acknowledged how Russo, as a sitting judge who knew not to give police false information, initially violated that law with Westlake cops when he lied about the bloody and early morning domestic battle that disturbed the peace of the neighbor who called and others. The juvenile court judge told the law enforcement officers nothing happened.
When confronted with Vezina’s statement and protection order the juvenile court judge claimed she “attacked” him. Cops didn’t buy it. Russo was arrested and charged with a “domestic violence” violation under R.C. 2921.25(A).
The nuances of the state’s domestic violence law caused Russo to avoid some of the same issues that plagued Mason. The fact Russo and Vezina were not living together during their first known domestic violence battle minimized the second encounter. So did the level of violence.
Mason’s fist came crashing into his “wife’s” jaw in 2014 during their Shaker Square incident and the damage to her during their first encounter was extensive. In 2006 Vezina was not the juvenile court judge’s wife or a member of Russo’s “household” when she ended up “bruised” by the lawyer’s blows to her body.
Russo’s “domestic violence” charged was amended to “disorderly conduct.” The juvenile court judge pled guilty to the 4th degree misdemeanor. His sentence was a year’s probation and a $250 fine.
The Supreme Court’s decision was equally as lenient despite Russo’s repeat criminal acts of drunken violence against a woman. Steps he took to deal with his violence were accepted as mitigating factors in the state’s decision about the fate of his law license.
Russo sought counseling from attorney and drug counselor Paul Caimi. A physician, Dr. Gintautas Z. Sabataitis, submitted a statement that Russo’s violence was due to the “addictive disease of alcohol.” Treatment allegedly began three days after his July 4th, 2007 bloody battle with Vezina on July 7th. From that period until the Supreme Court’s hearing about his license in September 2009 he “allegedly” remained alcohol-free.
Despite his violation of three judicial canons Russo was allowed to continue serving on the bench with two criminal convictions for violence against a woman. He blamed the violence against his girlfriend on another woman. His former wife. The alleged stress of their divorce drove him to drink.