Friday, June 24, 2022

Gender Bias Claims Do Not Warrant Judge's Disqualification

The Ohio Supreme Court (C.J. O'Connor)  denied an application of judicial disqualification in a divorce matter .

One allegation

Ms. Ansbro alleges that Judge Leach’s actions in two prior cases demonstrate his disdain for her and female litigants. Regarding the first of those matters, she argues, the judge exhibited bias in several different ways, including by scheduling trial immediately after her return from parental leave, which required her to prepare for trial during her leave time, and by denying her and her female client’s requests to continue certain days of the trial due to family and medical issues. Ms. Ansbro further alleges that during one day of the trial, Judge Leach berated her regarding her presentation of certain evidence and demanded that she create a spreadsheet summarizing the evidence for him by the following day. Ms. Ansbro says that at the time, she was breastfeeding every two hours and that Judge Leach nonetheless denied her requests for additional time to create the summary for him. Regarding the second matter, Ms. Ansbro alleges that the judge attempted to proceed without the presence of an interpreter for a female litigant who did not speak English and that Judge Leach again berated Ms. Ansbro during that proceeding.

The judge's response

Judge Leach asserts that in the first matter, he scheduled trial for after Ms. Ansbro’s parental leave had ended and for a date agreed to by counsel. He also says that he made several accommodations for Ms. Ansbro and her client during trial, and he has explained why he initially denied their requests for continuances before he ultimately granted them. The judge acknowledges that in an attempt to move the case forward, he admonished Ms. Ansbro—outside the presence of her client—for poor organization of her trial notebooks and suggested that she prepare summary pages for the court. Regarding the second matter, Judge Leach says that without a transcript, he cannot recall the exact details of the case, but he believes he would not force any party to go forward without an interpreter.

The court

Here, Ms. Ansbro has offered her affidavit and a few emails to support her claims of gender bias, even though many of them, if true, could have been substantiated by transcripts or other evidence—including her allegations that the judge had berated her in two prior cases. For his part, Judge Leach has thoroughly addressed each allegation and denied that he acted improperly or in a biased manner. A “presumption of impartiality” is accorded all judges in affidavit-of- disqualification proceedings.

Justice O'Connor reached the same result in an unrelated pending murder case

A judge’s isolated comments made during or at the end of a lengthy trial are generally insufficient to prove that the judge is biased or prejudiced. A trial judge will often conduct proceedings with an eye toward preserving a complete record for appeal, and nothing here suggests that Judge Holbrook’s comments in this regard demonstrate bias or prejudice or give the appearance thereof. Likewise, the judge’s use of the terms “victims” and “murder,” while unfortunate, does not warrant his disqualification. Judge Holbrook says that these terms were spoken in error, and nothing in the record undermines that assertion or the judge’s ability to ensure that the parties receive a fair trial. See In re Disqualification of Ambrose, 110 Ohio St.3d 1220, 2005-Ohio-7154, 850 N.E.2d 722, ¶ 5.

There is, however, the allegation that Judge Holbrook referred to the defendant as “the killer.” Judge Holbrook admits that during an in-chambers meeting with counsel, he “sarcastically” referred to the defendant as “The killer, Dr. Husel.” The judge maintains that he immediately regretted the comment and advised those present of his regret. Before this court, Judge Holbrook states that he recognizes that his comment was in poor taste and incredibly insensitive, but he assures the court that notwithstanding that comment, his words and conduct do not reflect a manifestation of a preconceived notion of the defendant’s guilt or innocence, which, as he notes, are within the jury’s purview.

Judge Holbrook’s attempt at humor was ill-advised, and his comment was undignified and improper. The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a judge be dignified and courteous to litigants and others that the judge deals within an official capacity. Jud.Cond.R. 2.8(B). That said, improper comments alone do not always reflect judicial bias or preclude a judge from fairly and impartially presiding over a case.

The opinion was issued on April 7 and released today.

WBNS 10 reported on the acquittal two weeks later

Former Mount Carmel Dr. William Husel was found not guilty on all 14 counts of murder after nearly two months of trial. 

Prosecutors alleged Husel's doses of fentanyl and other drugs hastened the deaths of the patients. Initially, on Monday, the jury told the judge they were at an impasse.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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