Tuesday, October 18, 2022
The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended a judge from office and the practice of law.
The judge had received attention for refusing to comply with court orders regarding the COVID pandemic
Respondent, Pinkey Suzanne Carr, of Cleveland, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0061377, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1993. Since January 2012, she has served as a judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. She previously served for 13 years as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County.
In a March 2021 amended complaint, relator, disciplinary counsel, charged Carr with five counts of judicial misconduct. Each count set forth numerous instances of misconduct that occurred over a period of two years and shared common elements that fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) issuing capias warrants and making false statements, (2) engaging in ex parte communications and improper plea bargaining and rendering arbitrary dispositions, (3) using capias warrants and bonds to improperly compel payment of fines and court costs, (4) exhibiting a lack of decorum and dignity in a judicial office, and (5) abusing contempt power and failing to recuse herself from contempt proceedings in which she had a conflict.
The parties entered into 583 stipulations of fact and misconduct that span 126 pages and submitted more than 350 stipulated exhibits. The hearing before a three-member panel of the Board of Professional Conduct was bifurcated to afford Carr additional time to develop mitigating evidence.
The panel accepted the parties’ stipulations of fact and misconduct and issued a 58-page report recounting limited—but representative—examples of Carr’s admitted misconduct. The panel found that Carr “ruled her courtroom in a reckless and cavalier manner, unconstrained by the law or the court’s rules, without any measure of probity or even common courtesy” and that she “conducted business in a manner befitting a game show host rather than a judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court.” The panel concluded that Carr’s actions “could not help but seriously compromise the integrity of the court in the eyes of the public and all who had business there.” After weighing the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors, the panel recommended that Carr be suspended from the practice of law for two years and that certain conditions be placed on her reinstatement to the profession. The board adopted the panel’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommended sanction. The board further recommended that, in accordance with Gov.Jud.R. III(7)(A), Carr be immediately suspended from judicial office without pay for the duration of her disciplinary suspension.
Carr raises three objections to the recommended sanction. She argues that the board applied the wrong legal standard and failed to accord proper mitigating effect to her mental-health disorders. She further contends that the circumstances here support the imposition of a two-year suspension with 18 months conditionally stayed.
We adopt the board’s findings of misconduct. For the reasons that follow, we overrule Carr’s objections, reject the two-year suspension recommended by the board, indefinitely suspend Carr from the practice of law, and immediately suspend her from judicial office without pay for the duration of her disciplinary suspension.
Improper use of warrants
Carr admitted at the disciplinary hearing that her use of capias warrants and incarceration as a means to compel the payment of fines and costs by tying the bond to the amount of the fine and costs essentially created a modern-day debtors’ prison. The board found that Carr eventually discontinued this approach to enforcing the payment of fines and costs and that she gave a “characteristically colorful explanation for doing so” in open court:
You notice I’m no longer the bill collector for the Clerk’s Office. I’m not your b-i-t-c-h. See, you get it? Collect your own money. There you go, player, mm-hmm. Collect your own money, player, mm-hmm. I’m not your b-i-t-c-h. Run tell that, mm-hmm. Mmhmm. How you like them apples? Suckas.
Despite the dress and decorum expectations for the general public, Carr presided over her courtroom wearing workout attire, including tank tops, t-shirts (some bearing images or slogans), above-the-knee spandex shorts, and sneakers.
During a series of proceedings in open court, Carr maintained a dialogue with her staff and defendants about the television series P-Valley, which is set in a Mississippi strip club. Carr routinely referred to one of her bailiffs, Alicia Gray, as “Ms. Puddin” (or some variation thereof) in open court, and she asked one defendant if he knew “Ms. Puddin from P-Valley.” She teased another bailiff about driving to P-Valley to “find him that little girl with the curly blonde hair.” And in another display of inappropriate humor, she announced from the bench in open court, “You know what my P-Valley, my name gonna be Passion. I got to go to that class though so I can learn how to climb that pole.
On multiple occasions, Carr joked that she would be amenable to some form of bribe in return for a lenient sentence. In open court, she engaged in dialogues with defendants about accepting kickbacks on fines and arranging “hookups” for herself and her staff for food and beverages, flooring, and storage facilities.
A misdemeanor assault case that blossomed into a contempt is described at length
During her disciplinary hearing, Carr admitted that charging A.B. with the first contempt for rolling her eyes in court and cursing in lockup was an abuse of her discretion. She further admitted that she had antagonized A.B. from the bench, acted in a rude and discourteous manner, and instigated the incident that led her to cite A.B. in contempt for the second time. Carr offered no real explanation for failing to recuse herself from the contempt cases.
On the facts presented here, we conclude that Carr’s refusal to comply with Judge Earley’s administrative order during the COVID-19 pandemic, improper ex parte communications, improper plea bargaining and issuance of arbitrary dispositions, improper use of capias warrants and bonds to compel the payment of fines, falsification of entries, failure to recuse herself from a case in which she became personally embroiled with a defendant, and lack of proper courtroom decorum—namely, her dress, her unkempt bench, her undignified and demeaning treatment of defendants, and her efforts to obtain free or discounted goods and services—warrant a greater sanction than the 18-month partially stayed suspensions that we imposed in Medley and Parker.
...Carr’s unprecedented misconduct involved more than 100 stipulated incidents that occurred over a period of approximately two years and encompassed repeated acts of dishonesty; the blatant and systematic disregard of due process, the law, court orders, and local rules; the disrespectful treatment of court staff and litigants; and the abuse of capias warrants and the court’s contempt power. That misconduct warrants an indefinite suspension from the practice. of law
The court rejected mental health issues as a basis for mitigation, noting that a character letter from a court employee opined that her depression was the result of the adverse publicity, rather than the cause of the misconduct. (Mike Frisch)