The Slatest

Rep. Marcia Fudge Wrote Letter of Support for Cleveland Judge Now Suspected of Murdering His Wife

Marcia Fudge, dressed in red, holds a gavel at a podium with "2016"—the "0" replaced by a drawing of the Liberty Bell—on the front. The backdrop and the podium are both blue.
U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

After a Cleveland judge who was convicted in 2015 for violently beating his wife was arrested on suspicion of murdering her on Saturday, some who learned of the news questioned how the judge had been given a job with the city just months after he was released from prison.

Some pointed to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who handpicked former judge Lance Mason for the job of city director of minority business, according to Cleveland.com.

But a letter located by Cleveland 19 News, a CBS affiliate station, and circulated later on Monday found that U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge wrote a letter in support of Mason during his 2015 sentencing “as a result of more than 20 years of friendship.”

“I commend Lance for immediate recognizing that he needed help and entered counseling which continues as of this writing,” she said in the statement. “Lance accepts full responsibility for his actions and has assured me that something like this will never happen again.”

She continued:

The Lance T. Mason I know is a kind, intelligent man and loyal friend. The Lance T. Mason I know is an advocate for the people of his community. Whether as a County Prosecutor, State Senator or Common Pleas Judge. He is well respected and well liked.

Lance Mason is a good man who made a very bad mistake. I can only hope that you can see in Lance what I and others see.

Mason had been arrested and convicted for violently beating his wife while driving home from a funeral in 2014. He punched her 20 times, bit her, and slammed her head against the dashboard of the car and window, breaking a bone in her face and leaving her in need of facial reconstruction surgery. She attempted to flee the car. He continued to beat her, before driving away and leaving her on the road to flag down a passing car and ask for a ride to the hospital. Their two young daughters were sitting in the back of the car during the assault.

When police arrived at his home, they also found and confiscated smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, a sword, a bulletproof vest, and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition. At the time of the sentencing a year later, when Mason was given two years in prison (he ended up serving nine months), he found a number of supporters who said they believed he was genuinely remorseful, Cleveland 19 News reported. The prosecutor in the case called it “an example of sometimes how good people make bad decisions.”

WKYC later reported that some with knowledge of the case speculated that Mason’s hiring in 2017 after his release to serve as the city’s director of minority business administrator came about in part through Fudge’s influence. She denied having any role at the time.

Fudge has in recent weeks floated the idea of challenging Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House in January. Jim Newell, writing in Slate, explained why some believe Fudge, who belongs to the Progressive and Black Caucuses, could stand a chance against Pelosi with the support of those who backed Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan against Pelosi in 2016. (The most likely outcome, though, is that Pelosi will stand up against any challenges and hold onto the gavel.)

Cleveland’s mayor has denied any kind of political favor involved in Mason’s hiring, according to Cleveland 19 News, and he has stood by the city’s policy of hiring people with felony records where appropriate as a part of a second chance program. Mason was selected from among a group of 13 candidates for the job. The mayor said in his statement that he didn’t know Mason, who had been a state legislator before he was a judge, except through political events, but he had supported Mason’s election campaigns in the past. He said in his role for the city, he did a good job of recruiting minority citizens for jobs and working with minority businesses.

According to Cleveland.com, four currently sitting judges, as well as other prominent figures in Cleveland, joined Fudge in writing dozens of letters of support of Mason after the assault. Many of them followed a request by a lawyer seeking character letters to send to the Ohio Supreme Court in an attempt to allow Mason a chance to regain his law license later in life.

Mason was arrested Saturday on suspicion of stabbing his estranged wife, Aisha Fraser Mason, at her home. Fraser had taught sixth grade history and math at a local elementary school for two decades.

In response to a request for comment after Mason’s arrest, Fudge sent a statement to Cleveland 19 News commenting on the crime:

My heart breaks for Aisha Fraser. I pray for Aisha’s family, especially her children, as they attempt to deal with this tragedy. My support of Lance in 2015 was based on the person I knew for almost 30 years – an accomplished lawyer, prosecutor, state legislator and a judge. That’s the Lance Mason I supported. The person who committed these crimes is not the Lance Mason familiar to me. It was a horrific crime. I and everyone who knew Aisha are mourning her loss.

Mason has been charged with assaulting a police officer who he injured when he slammed into a police cruiser while attempting to flee the scene of the crime. He has yet to be formally charged in Fraser’s death.