Judge Saffold Files $50M Suit Against Cleveland Newspaper Over Online Comments

"Rufus Sims did a disservice to his client," the Nov. 21, 2009, post said according to the paper. "If only he could shut his Amos and Andy style mouth. What makes him think that is [sic] he insults and acts like buffon [sic] that it will cause the judge to think and see it his way. There are so many lawyers that could've done a much better job. This was not a tough case, folks. She should've hired a lawyer with the experience to truly handle her needs. Amos and Andy, shuffling around did not do it."

That comment was not tied to Saffold's courthouse computer, Goldberg said, and after it was allegedly posted the newspaper removed it for violating the community rules on Cleveland.com, baring personal attacks.

"Lawmiss" was originally spotted by an online editor for Cleveland.com last month, after the user allegedly posted a personal attack against a family member of a Plain Dealer reporter Jim Ewinger, Goldberg said.

"People make critical comments of the staff and we don't have a problem with that, the reason this comment was noticed was because it wasn't about the reporter, it was about the mental health of a family member of the reporter," Goldberg said, adding that she wouldn't elaborate about the comment, but did say the Ewinger had covered Judge Saffold in past reports.

Goldberg said the online editor was able to access the e-mail address registered with the name "lawmiss" and after a simple Google search, determine that address was connected to Saffold. The fact that the Web editor looked into the e-mail address associated with an anonymous commentor and tracked down a person associated with that, and the paper then reported those findings to the public has drawn the ire of some commentors on Cleveland.com.

Goldberg acknowledges that people have since complained to her about what some perceive as a violation of privacy by the editor and the paper. Goldberg said that the paper acted appropriately after discovering the e-mail allegedly is connected to Judge Saffold.

"I think we did what we had to do, based on the facts. Once you start pulling on the string, there's no way to wrap it back up into a neat ball," Goldberg said.

"The only thing we did that the public couldn't do was figure out whose e-mail was associated with those comments in the first place," Goldberg said.

According to Goldberg, two other comments allegedly posted by "lawmiss" were directly related to two death penalty cases presided over by Saffold aside from the Sowell case. Those were the RTA bus driver case in which the commentator allegedly made the comments about Sims, and a triple-murder trial that resulted in the conviction of a Cleveland firefighter.

"If a black guy had massacred five people then he would've received the death penalty," the Plain Dealer alleges lawmiss stated in a May 22, 2008, post about the sentencing the firefighter, Terrance Hough Jr., to life without parole. "A white guy does it and he gets pat on the hand. The jury didn't care about the victims. They were set to cut him loose from day one. All of them ought to be ashamed."

However, Sydney Saffold, Judge Saffold's 23-year-old daughter, stepped forward shortly after the Plain Dealer contacted Judge Safford about their findings two weeks ago to take responsibility for some of the comments.

"Sydney made comments," Spitz said to ABC News.

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