By Arturo R. García
Kelley Williams-Bolar was released from jail on Thursday, a day ahead of schedule. But the attention – and outrage – over her case shows no sign of ending anytime soon, even garnering notice from some celebrities.
Williams-Bolar had originally been sentenced to 10 days in jail, out of a possible five years, on Jan. 18 after being convicted of forging documentation allowing her children could attend school in a more affluent, mostly white school district than the one she resides in in Akron. Williams was also required to two years of probation, and ordered to complete 80 hours of community service.
According to Change.org, which has been petitioning Ohio Governor John Kasich to pardon Williams-Bolar, her father said her decision to enroll her children in another district was made because of concerns over their safety – her house had been broken into, he said, and she’d had to file 12 different police reports because of crime in her neighborhood – and not the educational quality of her local schools. Williams-Bolar told WEWS-TV, “When my home got broken into, I felt it was my duty to do something else.”
Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove, who delivered the sentence, told the Akron Beacon Journal that Williams-Bolar received jail time because local county prosecutors rejected lesser sentences:
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 [...]
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.
Cosgrove also said she was not responsible for Williams-Bolar’s conviction preventing her from earning her teaching license, a process she was 12 credits shy of completing, and that she would write a letter to the Ohio Board of Education asking it not to revoke her license.
‘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.”
In the week-plus after Williams-Bolar’s initial sentencing, her case became the latest cause célèbre out of Ohio, following the Ted Williams story late last year. Actor Donald Glover discussed his own empathy for her on both Twitter and tumblr:
This really hit me close to home because my mom did the exact same thing to make sure I got into a school where I could experience something as small as going to a county fair or just studying around people and places I felt safe.
One day the school found out and kicked me out. My mom argued with the principal for an hour, but I ended up going to a very shitty school for a couple years. It sucked.
This sucks FAR more. It really makes no sense.
Questlove, the twitter-active drummer for The Roots, also drew attention to the Change.org petition:
In the wake of her release, Williams-Bolar will reportedly seek to appeal her conviction, while the Akron chapter of the National Action Network has started a donation drive to pay for her legal fees. In another indication of how much attention the case has gotten, the Rev. Al Sharpton has agreed to help the Akron NAN in its’ efforts.