Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Driving Judge Oldfield

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court today  publicly reprimanded a judge serving on the Akron Municipal Court for her  conduct related to the 2012 arrest of a lawyer who practiced in her courtroom.

In the 5-2 decision, the court  determined that Judge Joy Malek Oldfield violated two judicial conduct rules  and one professional conduct rule, but rejected an argument from the  Disciplinary Counsel that Oldfield violated an additional judicial conduct  rule. The Disciplinary Counsel filed the complaint charging the judge.

In February 2012, Oldfield and  her husband attended an evening event that lasted into the next morning.  Oldfield’s husband asked Catherine Loya, the public defender assigned to the  judge’s courtroom, to drive Oldfield home, and he left.

The judge and Loya left the party  sometime after 1 a.m. and stopped in a shopping center parking lot. A police  officer pulled up and asked them for identification. Two more police officers  arrived soon after. When Loya refused to do field sobriety tests, she was  arrested and taken to the police station. Oldfield asked one of the officers to  take her to the station to be with Loya. During some of her interactions with the  police, Oldfield mentioned that she was a judge.

At the station, Loya’s driving  privileges were immediately suspended. An officer then drove both Loya and  Oldfield to the judge’s house. Loya stayed at Oldfield’s house for three nights  until she was permitted to drive again. For the next two weeks, Oldfield  presided over 53 cases in which Loya represented clients.

In today’s majority opinion,  Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote that the court agreed with the state  disciplinary board that the judge violated two judicial rules stating that  judges must act in ways that promote public confidence in the judiciary, avoid  impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, and disqualify themselves from  proceedings in which their impartiality might be questioned. The court also  determined that the judge engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration  of justice.

Despite an objection from the  Disciplinary Counsel, the court also agreed with the board’s recommendation to  dismiss the alleged violation of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.3, which reads: “A judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the  personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so.”

“Our  review of the record supports the findings of the panel and the board,” Justice  Kennedy wrote. “[T]he [board’s] panel concluded that the evidence was  contradictory and that the record, taken as a whole, did not produce ‘a firm  conviction’ that Judge Oldfield used her judicial title to influence the  officers to accord her or Loya special treatment or that her conduct gave the  appearance that she was using her title for that purpose. We find that the  panel reviewed the record using an objective standard to determine whether  Judge Oldfield’s conduct created an appearance of impropriety, i.e., whether  her behavior would create, in reasonable minds, a perception that she was  improperly using her position to gain favor. We therefore overrule [the  Disciplinary Counsel’s] objections ….”

In  determining the appropriate sanction, the court considered Oldfield’s failure  to disqualify herself from more than 50 cases in which Loya was representing  defendants to be an aggravating factor. But the court also noted the judge’s  lack of any prior disciplinary record, her open disclosure and cooperative  attitude in the disciplinary hearings, and her good character and reputation.  Based on these circumstances, Oldfield’s conduct, and court precedent, the  majority ruled to publicly reprimand the judge.

Joining Justice Kennedy’s opinion  were Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith L. French, and  William M. O’Neill. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor dissented in part in an  opinion joined by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger.

In her opinion, Chief Justice  O’Connor agreed with the majority that Oldfield violated two judicial rules and  one professional conduct rule and concurred in the sanction. However, the chief  justice dissented from the dismissal of Jud.Cond.R. 1.3.

“Importantly,  Judge Oldfield’s first mention of her status as a judge to the officers was  gratuitous and, contrary to the majority’s characterization, more than a mere  ‘remark[],’” she wrote. “During the arrest, Officer Garner asked a ‘yes or no’  question — whether Judge Oldfield was a lawyer. Judge Oldfield testified that  she responded, ‘Yeah, actually, I’ve been an attorney for some time and now I’m  a judge.’ Judge Oldfield acknowledged that she could have responded truthfully  in a number of alternative ways, including by offering simply that she was  licensed to practice law. The specific mention of her judgeship in response was  not solicited or required, nor should it have been offered. Indeed, it served  only one purpose: to make sure that the officer knew that she was a judge.”

In  addition, the judge continued to insert herself into Loya’s arrest and booking  at the police station, Justice O’Connor noted.

“I find that the evidence  as a whole establishes that a reasonable person would believe that Judge  Oldfield abused the prestige of her office to advance her and Loya’s interests,”  she concluded. “Therefore, I would sustain [the Disciplinary Counsel’s] objection  to the board’s dismissal of the Jud.Cond.R. 1.3 allegation and would find that  Judge Oldfield violated the rule.”

2013-1623. Disciplinary  Counsel v. Oldfield, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-2963.

The Akron Beacon Journal had this earlier story, which reports that the police found the judge and public defender in the backseat of the car and that both were "partially clothed and smelled of alcohol."

Scene and Heard had this report. (Mike Frisch)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2014/07/divided-ohio-supreme-court-reprimands-judge-.html

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