Judge: I Can Be Impartial

By Kimball Perry
The Cincinnati Post [Cincinnati OH]
Downloaded September 16, 2003

Citing her deep Catholic faith, her Catholic schooling and the fact that she was censured for using the Bible to help determine the prison sentence of a child molester, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Melba Marsh told attorneys in a civil suit involving the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and allegations of sexual abuse that she would understand if they asked her to step down.

"I know I can give both sides a fair trial. That isn't the issue," Marsh said during a Monday hearing.

The issue is about how her background is viewed, she said.

"What we are dealing with here is not just justice but the perception of justice," Marsh told attorneys for the archdiocese, Father Lawrence Strittmatter and unnamed men who accuse Strittmatter of molesting them and the archdiocese of ignoring or covering it up.

Konrad Kircher, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said he would have to consult his clients before deciding if the judge should step down, but quickly added he didn't think they would ask that of Marsh.

Attorneys for Strittmatter and the archdiocese said after the hearing they needed to consult their clients before making a decision.

Marsh admitted she holds a special disdain for child molesters and rapists and noted that, as much as her Catholic upbringing, could be a reason to ask that she step down.

She told the attorneys she graduated from Seton High School in Price Hill, "the sister school of Elder" High, where Strittmatter was principal when some of the molestations are alleged to have occurred.

She also went to the College of Mount Saint Joseph on a scholarship awarded her by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

"Until I got to law school (at the University of Cincinnati), I didn't realize there was a public (school) system," she told the attorneys.

She said she has a high regard for parish priests and has been "very, very active" in her church, attending Mass every Sunday.

Marsh pointed out that she was censured by an appeals court for quoting the Bible in sentencing convicted child rapist James Arnett.

After reading in the Bible the night before that child molesters should have a millstone placed around their neck and be thrown into the river, she quoted that passage in court and sentenced Arnett to 51 years in prison.

The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which eventually ruled that Marsh had not acted improperly in considering the Bible in that sentencing.

"My feelings, putting aside the Bible verse, are still the same," she said of the stiff sentence she imposed on Arnett.

She said she understood her background could pose problems for lawyers representing the men who accuse the priest of molesting them. But she also noted she has a unique perspective, like the plaintiffs, she was in church-affiliated schools at about the same time they were and "that gives me some pretty good insight" into allegations.


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