Thursday, December 28, 2017
The Ohio Supreme Court declined to impose disbarment of a former judge for a serious act of domestic violence
We agree with the board that Mason committed the violations alleged in the complaint. However, we disagree with the board that disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Mason. Instead, we impose an indefinite suspension with no credit for time served on the interim felony suspension and with added conditions for reinstatement.
When the misconduct in this case occurred, Mason was a sitting judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, General Division. During all relevant times, he was subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In March 2014, Mason and his wife, Aisha Fraser Mason (“Fraser”), separated, with Mason continuing to live in what was the marital home and Fraser residing in an apartment. During their separation, Mason and Fraser shared equally in the custody and parenting of their two minor children.
On August 2, 2014, Mason, Fraser, and the children attended a funeral service for Mason’s aunt. Mason and Fraser agreed that after the service, Mason would drop Fraser off at her apartment and Mason would spend the afternoon with the children.
During the ride to Fraser’s apartment, the couple engaged in a conversation about their relationship. As the discussion progressed, Mason became upset and began assaulting Fraser, all the while continuing to drive. Mason struck Fraser repeatedly in the head, hit Fraser’s head against the armrest, the dashboard, and the window of the passenger door, and bit Fraser on her face. Fraser attempted to escape the moving car, but Mason grabbed her hair. When the car stopped at a red light, Fraser was able to open the door, but fell to the ground as she tried to flee. With the two children still in the car, Mason placed the vehicle in park, got out, and began to strike Fraser as she lay on the ground.
Mason then returned to his vehicle and drove away, leaving Fraser behind. Mason and Fraser’s two children (ages six and four at the time) were seated in the back seat and witnessed the events. The older child, who has special needs and possesses limited verbal abilities, was quiet while the attack was occurring, but the younger child was screaming.
Upon arriving at the house, Mason called his sister, Dr. Lynn Mason, and asked her to come and pick up the two children because he intended to shoot himself. He was arrested by police later that day.
As a result of the attack, Fraser sustained severe physical harm to her head, face, and neck, including an orbital blowout fracture under her left eye. She was hospitalized overnight from August 2-3, 2014, following the attack, and again from August 8-9, 2014, for surgery. Fraser subsequently arranged for her two children to begin counseling. As of February 2017, they continued to receive counseling as a result of what they witnessed on August 2, 2014.
He was removed from office and pleaded guilty to felony charges.
Sanction less than disbarment
In this case, Mason was convicted of a felony based on a single violent assault. Brutal it surely was. But it was not shown to be premeditated or part of a pattern of behavior. In this regard, we consider this case to be distinguishable from those cited by the board. Instead, we look to Ohio State Bar Assn. v. McCafferty, 140 Ohio St.3d 229, 2014-Ohio-3075, 17 N.E.3d 521. In that case, a sitting judge was convicted of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This court imposed an indefinite suspension with no credit for time served. We distinguished previous cases, including those cited by the board in this case: “[T]he circumstances in this case can be distinguished from Gallagher, McAuliffe, and Hoskins, in which judges were permanently disbarred. In those cases, the judges had engaged in criminal conduct over a period of time, from a few days to months, and the misconduct was preplanned.” Id. at ¶ 23. We emphasized that McCafferty’s violations were unplanned and occurred on a single impromptu occasion, rather than as a pattern of premeditated criminal conduct. Id. at ¶ 24. Therefore, we concluded, “imposition of the system’s most severe sanction [was] not warranted * * *.” Id.
The court imposed an indefinite suspension with conditions for reinstatement.
The oral argument is linked here. (Mike Frisch)