Monday, April 11, 2022

"A Breathtaking Number Of Infractions"

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court is a summary of a case scheduled for oral argument tomorrow

Disciplinary Counsel v. Judge Pinkey S. Carr, Case No. 2021-1518
Cuyahoga County

The Board of Professional Conduct recommends a two-year suspension for Cleveland Municipal Judge Pinkey Carr. The board states that the disciplinary case is “without precedent” because of the “breathtaking number of infractions.” Among the judicial misconduct accusations against Judge Carr:

  • Issuing arrest warrants for defendants who didn’t appear for court in the first weeks of the government-issued stay-at-home order for the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Holding hearings without a prosecutor present.
  • Unilaterally entering pleas for unrepresented defendants.
  • Arbitrarily imposing or waiving fines and court costs.
  • Jailing defendants to compel payment of fines and costs.
  • Creating false court journal entries.

Judge Carr has acknowledged much of the misconduct. However, she objects to the proposed sanction and the board’s decision about mitigating evidence related to her health. Because the judge has objected to the board’s conclusions, the Supreme Court of Ohio will hear oral argument in the matter.

Misconduct Complaints Span Two Years
Judge Carr was elected to the Cleveland Municipal Court in November 2011. The alleged misconduct occurred during a two-year period beginning in December 2018. In 126 pages of stipulations, Judge Carr has admitted to nearly all the allegations made by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigated the complaints against the judge. 

The professional conduct board’s report recounts “mere portions of the factual record” to illustrate the findings and support for the proposed sanction.

Judge Ignores Pandemic Closures, Behaves Inappropriately, Unfairly Jails Defendants
In mid-March 2020, in alignment with guidance issued by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, the municipal court’s presiding judge ordered the rescheduling of civil and criminal cases to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to protect the public and court employees. Judge Carr, however, continued to preside over her docket the next week. Criminal defendants who were not in jail followed the court order and did not appear for hearings. During a three-day period, Judge Carr noted in official court records that more than 30 defendants failed to appear. She ordered their arrests. She also set bonds from $2,500 to $10,000 in many of those cases. When local news media interviewed the judge, she lied about issuing arrest warrants. She also lied to her presiding judge about the actions.

In addition, Judge Carr routinely held hearings for defendants’ first appearances without the prosecutor, saying at times, “Let’s see how much we can get away with.” She arbitrarily waived fines based on defendant birthdays. She stated in court journal entries that prosecutors had amended charges, when she had made the changes unilaterally. The disciplinary complaint against her documented 34 incidents of the judge’s “inappropriate humor” and “frivolous and often demeaning dialogue with defendants.”

Judge Carr also scheduled hearings to determine defendants’ ability to pay court costs and fines without informing them or the clerk’s office of the hearing dates. When a defendant didn’t attend the hearing, she would issue an arrest warrant and set a $2,500 or higher bond. Judge Carr stipulated to six instances of incarcerating defendants to force the payment of fines and costs.

In open court, the judge discussed with her staff and defendants a television show called “Paradise Valley” about a fictional Mississippi strip club, stating what her “club name” would be. The judge would joke about accepting kickbacks on fines and arranging “hook-ups” from defendants for food, beverages, and products such as carpeting or storage space.

Panel Identifies Rule Violations, Reviews Other Factors
The panel that reviewed the allegations found Judge Carr engaged in voluminous violations of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio judges and of lawyers, including rules requiring judges to act at all times to promote public confidence in the judiciary’s independence, integrity, and impartiality; to uphold and apply the law; and to be patient, dignified, and courteous to those the judge deals with in an official capacity.

The board report stated:

“She ruled her courtroom in a reckless and cavalier manner, unconstrained by the law or the court's rules, and without any measure of probity or even common courtesy. Her actions could not help but seriously compromise the integrity of the court in the eyes of the public and all who had business there.”

The panel considered aggravating circumstances that could increase the suggested sanction and mitigating factors that could lead to a lesser penalty. Judge Carr asked that her diagnosed health conditions be considered as mitigating. The panel found no existence of a health disorder that caused the misconduct. However, the panel considered Judge Carr’s voluntary and ongoing participation in treatment as a mitigating factor. In recommending the suspension with no part stayed, the panel noted that if Judge Carr had not cooperated with the disciplinary process and committed to treatment, including a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP), an indefinite suspension would have been warranted.

The professional conduct board adopted the panel’s findings and proposed suspension. The report recommends that the judge be immediately suspended without pay for the term of her suspension. It also recommends that the judge’s reinstatement to the practice of law depend on her compliance with the OLAP agreement and recommendations and a report from a qualified healthcare professional that she can return to practicing law competently, ethically, and professionally.

Judge Requests Reduced Suspension
In her objections, Judge Carr asks for a stay of 18 months of the suggested two-year suspension. She argues that when considering the role of her health, the board panel looked at causation rather than whether a disorder contributed to her misconduct. Her doctor’s thorough evaluation and diagnosis meets the burden of showing that she was entitled to greater mitigation than the board allowed when deciding on a sanction. And no additional complaints about her conduct on the bench have been made since she began receiving appropriate treatment, she adds.

Her brief also requests additional consideration of other punishment she has received from “pervasive negative reporting” on the events. The news media coverage has harmed her reputation in the Cleveland community causing her “additional severe emotional angst,” her brief states.

Disciplinary Counsel Disagrees With Judge’s Arguments
The disciplinary counsel maintains that the conduct rules require a “nexus” between the health disorders and the misconduct. The board determined that a connection wasn’t shown, for several reasons. The board was concerned that Judge Carr didn’t realize her conduct in court was problematic regardless of knowing the cause. The board also couldn’t attribute her misconduct to her health conditions at the time. Judge Carr’s disregard for the law for two years couldn’t be cast as momentary lapses in judgment caused by her health conditions, and the problems seemed to manifest only when she was on the bench, the board stated. The disciplinary counsel points out that Judge Carr was given credit for her commitment to treatment under a different rule that considers other mitigating factors.

The disciplinary counsel argues that negative news media publicity doesn’t qualify as a mitigating factor under the conduct rules, adding that Judge Carr chose to make false statements to the media about her actions during the early weeks of the pandemic. To adopt Judge Carr’s proposed six-month actual suspension betrays the public trust in the judiciary and minimizes her misconduct, the disciplinary counsel concludes.

Kathleen Maloney

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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