The Counsellor's Corner


     Are you pro-choice?  Are you pro-life?  Whatever your view on this divisive issue, I hope you will share my outrage at the behavior of a judge who attempted to impose her will on a defendant.  This is the story of Yuriko Kawaguchi, a 21-year-old citizen of Japan and her case in Cleveland, Ohio.  Ms. Kawaguchi pleaded guilty to theft via credit card scam in front of Judge Patricia Cleary.  As she had no prior convictions, the standard sentence in Cleveland would be somewhere between 0 and 90 days in jail.  Not in this case!  Judge Cleary learned that Ms. Kawaguchi was 20 weeks pregnant, and in the State of Ohio one can get an abortion up to the 22-week mark with no questions asked.  After 22 weeks, abortions are only lawful if it is determined that the mother's health is in serious jeopardy or if the fetus is deemed not viable.  Ms. Kawaguchi had already spent four months in jail pending resolution of her case, however when she pleaded guilty the judge decided to sentence her to six months in jail.  Judge Cleary acknowledged she is a fervent opponent of abortion, however she indicated that her sentence was not based on her personal views but rather the severity of the crime.  The judge was forthright, however, in her statement that, "I'm not going to be a hypocrite.  I think it worked out swell if that was her desire, to abort her child that late." 

     Ms. Kawaguchi immediately appealed her sentence and, normally in this situation, an individual is allowed to be free on bail during the pendency of her appeal.  When Ms. Kawaguchi's attorneys filed their notice of appeal, Judge Cleary REFUSED TO SET BAIL!  Murder cases or other serious felonies are appropriate for not setting bail while an appeal is pending; this is a misdemeanor credit card theft case. 

     Ms. Kawaguchi's lawyers appealed the judge's "no bail" ruling to the Court of Appeal, which immediately ordered that bail be set at a paltry $15,000, requiring only  $1,500 be deposited for Ms. Kawaguchi to go free.  That was the appropriate ruling.  Ms. Kawaguchi has been freed and I imagine she has gotten her abortion.

     What an amazing abuse of discretion.  The job of a judge is to apply the law to a case, not to attempt to apply the law to have the result conform to her social agenda.  People in this country have the right to be pro-choice, and they have the right to be pro-life.  It is also the responsibility of every citizen in this country to follow the law.  If you don't like the law, do what you can to try to change it.  Contact your Congressman, contact your Senator, picket in a lawful fashion, elect a President who will appoint people with views similar to yours to the United States Supreme Court, but don't take the law into your hands. 

     There is no doubt in my mind that this judge extended the sentence of this defendant two extra months in an attempt to deny her an abortion.  The judge is entitled to her views on abortion, however she is not entitled to impose them on someone else.  The judge knew that this woman was two weeks away from either being denied an abortion or having to prove the fetus was not viable or that her health was in significant danger.  The judge took advantage of this information and attempted to impose her will on this societally divisive issue to make Ms. Kawaguchi conform to what the judge wanted her to do -- or did not want her to do.

     There are numerous laws on the books that I would change if I could.  There are laws with respect to gambling, prostitution, and drugs, that are certainly debatable as to whether they are good laws.  If one doesn't like those laws, one's obligation is to attempt to have the law changed.  If one chooses otherwise and gets caught, then there are potential consequences to be faced.

     For all of you who are pro-life, and view abortion as repugnant, my fervent hope would be that if you were in a position of power, you would not abuse it in order to circumvent the law. 

     Judge Cleary may say that her sentence was based on the severity of the crime, but everything I know about this case leads me to conclude that is not true and the judge's admission that this would "work out swell" is I believe a tacit admission that the judge's motives were less than pure.


          Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.