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Judge says prosecutors rejected lesser charges in Copley schools residency case

Bailiff says office bombarded by calls

By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer

The Summit County judge who sent an Akron mother to jail after she was convicted of falsifying records so her children could attend Copley-Fairlawn schools said considerable efforts were made to resolve the case before it went to trial.

Common Pleas Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove spoke out after becoming the target of public outcry over the case, which threatens the mother's job and her hopes to become a school teacher.

Cosgrove said the county prosecutor's office refused to consider reducing the charges to misdemeanors, and that all closed-door talks to resolve the case — outside of court — met with failure.

Kelley Williams-Bolar, 40, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 days in jail after a jury convicted her of two felony counts of tampering with records.

Cosgrove said numerous pretrial hearings were held since last summer.

''The state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,'' the judge said in an interview Wednesday.

''Of course, I can't put a gun to anybody's head and force the state to offer a plea bargain.''

County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh declined requests from the Beacon Journal to respond to the judge's comments.

Late Wednesday, Cosgrove issued a news release to area newspapers and television and radio stations, citing the need to respond to ''overwhelming public interest'' in her sentencing decision.

''The Summit County Prosecutor's Office retains complete control over whether to charge a person with a felony or a misdemeanor,'' the release stated.

Cosgrove's bailiff said the office had been bombarded by calls from angry area residents, most of whom were saying that Williams-Bolar's punishment far exceeded her crimes.

She is a single mother with two girls, ages 12 and 16, and is only a few credit hours short of graduating from the University of Akron with a teaching degree. She was working as a teaching assistant with special needs children at Buchtel High School. She also cared for her ailing father, who was charged with multiple felonies in the residency case.

Williams-Bolar was convicted of the two felony counts Saturday night after seven hours of jury deliberations.

On Tuesday, Cosgrove sentenced her to five years in prison but suspended all but 10 days in the county jail, saying that to not include time behind bars would ''demean the seriousness'' of the offenses.

She also was given two years of probation and 80 hours of community service.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge noted that Williams-Bolar faced another form of punishment.

''Because of the felony conviction,'' Cosgrove said, addressing Williams-Bolar directly inside the packed courtroom, ''you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today.''

Cosgrove said that comment resulted in a ''a terrible misconception.''

''I did not mandate or order that her teaching license be suspended or revoked,'' Cosgrove said Wednesday. ''That is absolutely inaccurate.''

Cosgrove said Williams-Bolar's nonviolent felony offenses do not necessarily mean that she will lose her teaching certificate. She said Ohio law only states that a felony conviction ''may'' be grounds for such action.

The judge said the Ohio Department of Education will hold a hearing and make the final decision ''whether or not they will revoke her license.''

''I have nothing to do with that as a matter of law. Once she was convicted by a jury of any felony, that conviction has to be reported to the state, and then it's up to the state at that point in time to decide whether or not they're going to revoke her license,'' Cosgrove said. ''This is the Ohio legislature who wrote this law, not [this] court.''

Cosgrove said her reading of the statute leaves open the possibility Williams-Bolar can be a teacher ''because she was not convicted of an offense of violence [or] offenses of moral turpitude.''

Because Williams-Bolar had no previous felony record, Cosgrove said she will write a letter to the state Board of Education asking that Williams-Bolar's license not be revoked.

''I will do everything I can, as far as sending a letter, asking them not to consider it,'' the judge said.

Cosgrove also indicated she would consider expunging the felony conviction if Williams-Bolar successfully completes a minimum of six months of probation.

''I suspect she will,'' the judge said.

 


Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.

Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove sentences Kelley Williams-Bolar sentenced to 10 days in the Summit County Jail, three years of probation following her release and 80 hours of community service in the Summit County Courthouse Tuesday Jan. 18, 2011 in Akron, Ohio. She was found guilty of two third degree felonies for having her children attend Copley schools while being an Akron resident. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

The Summit County judge who sent an Akron mother to jail after she was convicted of falsifying records so her children could attend Copley-Fairlawn schools said considerable efforts were made to resolve the case before it went to trial.

Common Pleas Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove spoke out after becoming the target of public outcry over the case, which threatens the mother's job and her hopes to become a school teacher.

Cosgrove said the county prosecutor's office refused to consider reducing the charges to misdemeanors, and that all closed-door talks to resolve the case — outside of court — met with failure.

Kelley Williams-Bolar, 40, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 days in jail after a jury convicted her of two felony counts of tampering with records.

Cosgrove said numerous pretrial hearings were held since last summer.

''The state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,'' the judge said in an interview Wednesday.

''Of course, I can't put a gun to anybody's head and force the state to offer a plea bargain.''

County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh declined requests from the Beacon Journal to respond to the judge's comments.

Late Wednesday, Cosgrove issued a news release to area newspapers and television and radio stations, citing the need to respond to ''overwhelming public interest'' in her sentencing decision.

''The Summit County Prosecutor's Office retains complete control over whether to charge a person with a felony or a misdemeanor,'' the release stated.

Cosgrove's bailiff said the office had been bombarded by calls from angry area residents, most of whom were saying that Williams-Bolar's punishment far exceeded her crimes.

She is a single mother with two girls, ages 12 and 16, and is only a few credit hours short of graduating from the University of Akron with a teaching degree. She was working as a teaching assistant with special needs children at Buchtel High School. She also cared for her ailing father, who was charged with multiple felonies in the residency case.

Williams-Bolar was convicted of the two felony counts Saturday night after seven hours of jury deliberations.

On Tuesday, Cosgrove sentenced her to five years in prison but suspended all but 10 days in the county jail, saying that to not include time behind bars would ''demean the seriousness'' of the offenses.

She also was given two years of probation and 80 hours of community service.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge noted that Williams-Bolar faced another form of punishment.

''Because of the felony conviction,'' Cosgrove said, addressing Williams-Bolar directly inside the packed courtroom, ''you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today.''

Cosgrove said that comment resulted in a ''a terrible misconception.''

''I did not mandate or order that her teaching license be suspended or revoked,'' Cosgrove said Wednesday. ''That is absolutely inaccurate.''

Cosgrove said Williams-Bolar's nonviolent felony offenses do not necessarily mean that she will lose her teaching certificate. She said Ohio law only states that a felony conviction ''may'' be grounds for such action.

The judge said the Ohio Department of Education will hold a hearing and make the final decision ''whether or not they will revoke her license.''

''I have nothing to do with that as a matter of law. Once she was convicted by a jury of any felony, that conviction has to be reported to the state, and then it's up to the state at that point in time to decide whether or not they're going to revoke her license,'' Cosgrove said. ''This is the Ohio legislature who wrote this law, not [this] court.''

Cosgrove said her reading of the statute leaves open the possibility Williams-Bolar can be a teacher ''because she was not convicted of an offense of violence [or] offenses of moral turpitude.''

Because Williams-Bolar had no previous felony record, Cosgrove said she will write a letter to the state Board of Education asking that Williams-Bolar's license not be revoked.

''I will do everything I can, as far as sending a letter, asking them not to consider it,'' the judge said.

Cosgrove also indicated she would consider expunging the felony conviction if Williams-Bolar successfully completes a minimum of six months of probation.

''I suspect she will,'' the judge said.

 


Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.

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