A commentary for The People News
by Pete Edwards
After January's page one headline in The People News - "McKenzie Faces Jail" - this editor received several calls on the report that covered events which led to the arrest and prosecution of Toby McKenzie for drunk driving and violation of the open container law. Normally this type of report would consist only of factual evidence and avoid editorial commentary, but because of the unusual events surrounding the case and the involvement of one of Cleveland's most admired and generous benefactors, this time the report will take the form of a commentary. The calls received were divided between support of McKenzie receiving special treatment because of his generosity and the need for equal and unbiased justice under the law. There is though, a third aspect that this editor believes it more important than the simple need for justice, and that is how the legal system is seen to perform when a wealthy and influential person joins the ordinary citizen's trek through the judicial maze. This commentary will endeavor to shed light on this troubling and inefficient process.
McKenzie's arrest for DUI is a Class A Misdemeanor and is not unusual... Guy gets drunk - drives car - gets busted; it happens every day. McKenzie's transgression was unfortunate though, to have been seen by a passing motorist who has been acknowledged by the court to have made a citizen's arrest by alerting authorities and following until police arrived. Evidence given by the witness portrays the driver as having serious difficulties controlling his car. The responding officer found McKenzie unsteady on his feet, at times having to support himself using a nearby railing and still holding a cup containing rum and coke. With a blood/alcohol level of 0.29 it was apparently a straight forward case of extreme intoxication. Many would say "he was drunk - so what, he didn't kill anyone" - and they would be absolutely right - this time. People do worse things. Had McKenzie humbled himself to the court and bargained community service or minimum jail time, it is unlikely you would be reading this. However, McKenzie chose another path that would take three years of hearings, legal arguments and appeals in order to dodge an obvious and unavoidable outcome.
Although publicly known as Toby, McKenzie's real name is Steve, so all court documents were filed under Steve McKenzie, allowing for a measure of anonymity from the start. Also, there seemed to be an effort to shield the case from public view by making it difficult to follow. Court dates were canceled at the last minute, sometimes on the set date the courtroom would be closed and locked. Months would go by with no action. Deals were made behind closed doors and McKenzie's name would not be called with everyone else when dockets were read out in court. The blood test evidence was apparently lost and the tape of the Preliminary Hearing which contained the witnesses testimony was found to be useless because of faulty batteries.
Because of the lack of consistency it was all but impossible for this newspaper to cover the case. It is not being suggested that the court system in Bradley county is totally corrupt, in fact the judges and the prosecution and even the defense attorneys all seemed to act in a proper manner, it was more that the system seem to flourish on inactivity, inefficiency and malaise. Nothing ever seemed to get done and after three years the case has still not been resolved. It is a system that encourages defense attorney's to drag out cases in order to get an acquittal by inaction. How many times is a witness willing to attend court? It is an unreasonable burden on a civilian witness to expect them to put their lives on hold for so long while a lumbering leviathan of a court system tries to administer the law. It sends a message to the conscientious citizen to not get involved at a time in history that depends on the cooperation of the general public to combat crime and terrorism.
There is no doubt that the Bradley County Court System is broken.
And the cost. This case will likely cost McKenzie a small fortune in attorney fees but it will also cost a small fortune for the taxpayer who pays for the judicial system. Also, no one wins in a situation like McKenzie has gotten himself into. He comes out looking bad, it makes the judges look bad, the prosecution look bad and even the defense attorneys who benefit most of all, don't look too good. The taxpayer is cheated, the person that languishes in jail for the same offense is cheated and the justice system as a whole is relieved of integrity and public confidence.
No one can question the generosity of Toby McKenzie and his support of the community in which he was raised. His success should be an inspiration to every young person who knows his name but sadly, some bad choices have been made that will tarnish the reputation of an otherwise good and charitable man.