Content warning: This article contains descriptive content that is sexual in nature. Reader discretion is advised.
Following his lawyer’s motion, a judge has ruled Edward L. Kline, the former Solon High School band director, will face 10 trials – facing each of his accusers separately.
Cuyahoga County Judge Timothy McCormick decided to sever the offenses faced by Kline in an Aug. 30 ruling following both written and oral arguments from Kline’s lawyer and the prosecution.
Kline, 51, has pleaded not guilty to 19 counts of sexual offenses.
The Cleveland Jewish News exclusively reported this story in June 2020.
Kline was first arraigned in Bedford Municipal Court on a single count and later in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas on indictments alleging more offenses. His alleged victims ranged in age from 12 to 18, and the alleged crimes took place spanning dates from Aug. 1, 2003 to June 30, 2014.
Kline is married and lives in Stow. He is out of jail on $50,000 cash or surety bond.
Kline worked with students from eighth to 12th grades in Solon from 2004 until his resignation in 2018. He resigned from the Solon City School District before his employment could be terminated, according to a report then-Superintendent Joseph Regano filed with the Ohio Department of Education in 2018.
The April 6 legal filing from Kline’s lawyer, Ian N. Friedman, was to sever offenses – meaning Kline would undergo a separate trial for each alleged victim rather than face a single trial with all of the alleged victims.
The prosecution opposed the move.
In a brief supporting his motion, Friedman, of Friedman & Nemecek LLC of Cleveland, argued the jury might be confused by the number of allegations, the electronic evidence involved and might subscribe to the notion of “where there is smoke, there is fire.” He also referred to the potential impact of the “me too” movement on the jury.
“We are declining comment on this latest ruling,” Tyler Sinclair, public information officer for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, wrote the Cleveland Jewish News in an Aug. 30 email.
In a June 10 brief, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kelly Mason wrote a jury would not be confused, that “each count is separate and distinct.”
In addition, she wrote, they are “of same or similar character,” are “based on two or more acts connected together,” and “are a continuing course of conduct as Kline continuously committed similar offenses against multiple victims.”
In addition, Mason argued, “Evidence of the crimes against each victim would be admissible in the crime against the others” and that “evidence of each crime is simple and direct and the court will be able to segregate the evidence.”
Friedman detailed his concerns in the April 6 brief.
“Based on the number of victims, there is a significant danger that the jury will give undue weight to the cumulative testimony of all of the accusers rather than closely scrutinizing the testimony of each accuser,” Friedman wrote.
He said the allegations were brought to the attention of authorities at different times with some being made at or near the time of the alleged incidents and others made years later.
“Further, many weren’t made until other accusers came forward and voiced their stories both publicly on Facebook as well as in a private Facebook group for alleged victims,” Friedman, Kline’s attorney, wrote. “None of these accusers are connected to one another but for their allegations.”
He also argued Kline should face separate trials because “evidence of the other charges would be inadmissible in separate trials.”
Friedman said some of the alleged assaults took place on school grounds – in the band room, the copy room behind a closed door and in Kline’s office – and other alleged incidents took place at band camp “on a scissor lift outside in front of the entire band.”
“Further details of the alleged assaults differ significantly,” Friedman wrote. “While all of the accusers do assert that (Kline) was their music teacher and he crossed a sexual line, there are distinct differences in the actual alleged conduct amongst the accusers.”
Friedman wrote that severing the offenses and allowing Kline separate trials is not unprecedented in Cuyahoga County, referring to a 2009 case involving 49 alleged violations of Ohio Revised Code from nine alleged victims. In that case, Friedman wrote, there were four jury trials, one bench trial and the remaining counts were dismissed and ultimately sealed.
“The risk of inferences being drawn from the smoke and fire scenario is heightened as the ‘me too’ movement only grows,” Friedman wrote. “This movement only intensifies the need for severance in trials such as this dealing with sexual assault by several accusers, where their allegations involve one alleged perpetrator but markedly varied allegations.”
Friedman said that electronic evidence shows that former students exchanged messages “claiming (Kline) picked them to be his ‘special helper’ and forced them to change clothing in his office. … Based on the similarities and volume of repetitive evidence that could be related to and used to corroborate the testimony of some of the accusers, it is virtually certain that a jury will be confused and/or unfairly persuaded while trying to decipher and analyze the electronic evidence.”
Friedman wrote that jurors could be overwhelmed “with the sheer number of accusers and weigh the quantity alone in favor of guilt.”
Friedman and Madalyn Grant, also of Friedman & Nemecek, made a statement to the Cleveland Jewish News Sept. 8 by email.
“We believe that the court ruling is sound as case precedent recognizes the extreme prejudice that an accused person faces when required to confront multiple allegations and accusers in one trial,” they wrote. “The credibility of even the most deficient claim is bolstered if viewed among the claims of others. Our system of criminal justice is premised upon the right to due process to prevent this very scenario. The court’s ruling correctly recognizes that concern for expediency cannot surpass the constitutional requirement of fundamental fairness. Mr. Kline stands prepared to refute the allegations in the courtroom before as many juries as is necessary.”