Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Credit For Time Served After Nine Year Interim Suspension

The Ohio Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended a former judge with credit for time served

Hunter’s indictment was based on conduct that she had allegedly undertaken in her role as a juvenile-court judge. On October 14, 2014, a jury returned a guilty verdict on a single count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract in violation of R.C. 2921.42(A)(1), a fourth-degree felony. The court sentenced Hunter to six months in jail followed by one year of nonreporting probation and ordered her to pay the court costs.

On October 21, 2014, we suspended Hunter from the practice of law on an interim basis based on her felony conviction.

At the bar discipline hearing

Hunter contended that the criminal charges against her were politically motivated because she was the first black Democrat elected as a judge of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court and sought to implement change. Hunter and her witnesses offered testimony that Hunter had actively worked to reform the court’s procedures and operations and implement improvements in the juveniledetention facility.

Hunter agreed that she was convicted of the fourth-degree felony offense of having an unlawful interest in a public contract under R.C. 2921.42(A)(1). But she maintained that the evidence presented at her trial did not warrant a conviction under the language of that statute.

Her due process violations and other argument were rejected

The court of appeals’ recitation of the evidence presented at Hunter’s trial demonstrates that upon being informed of the potential termination of her brother’s employment, Hunter sent an email to all employees of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Youth Center identifying numerous safety concerns that resembled the main explanations her brother had given for his actions that were under investigation. Hunter, 2016-Ohio-123 at ¶ 7. Hunter requested many documents—including some that “would not have been provided to any employee under any circumstances,” id. at ¶ 1—and her brother testified that she provided those nonpublic documents to him and that he took them to his attorney, id. at ¶ 11.

Those facts support the board’s inference that Hunter acted to protect her brother’s job and that her actions in that regard violated her duty under Jud.Cond.R. 1.2 to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary. They also support the board’s conclusion that she abused the prestige of her judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of her brother in violation of Jud.Cond.R. 1.3, that she permitted her familial relationship with her brother to influence her judicial conduct in violation of Jud.Cond.R. 2.4(B), and that she knowingly disclosed nonpublic information acquired in her judicial capacity for a purpose unrelated to her judicial duties in violation of Jud.Cond.R. 3.5. We therefore adopt the board’s findings of misconduct.

Sanction

We acknowledge that the misconduct for which Hunter was convicted does not rise to the level of misconduct that we found warranted permanent disbarment in Terry, McAuliffe, and Gallagher. But given that Hunter’s conviction under R.C. 2921.42(A)(1) arose from conduct that she undertook in her role as a judge, it is far more significant than an attorney’s violation of the same statute in Schmidt. Based on Hunter’s criminal conviction and the factual findings set forth in the court of appeals’ opinion affirming that conviction, Hunter has been found to have violated the law, abused the prestige of her judicial office to advance the personal interests of another, allowed a familial relationship to influence her judicial conduct or judgment, and disclosed or used nonpublic information acquired in her judicial capacity for her brother’s benefit, and she has thereby failed to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary. On these facts, we are not persuaded by Hunter’s arguments that she should receive any sanction less than an indefinite suspension.

Finally, we recognize that Hunter has served nearly nine years under her interim felony suspension. Given that an attorney or judge who has been indefinitely suspended from the practice of law may ordinarily petition this court for reinstatement after just two years, see Gov.Bar R. V(25)(A), we agree that the board’s recommended sanction of an indefinite suspension with credit for the time that Hunter has served under her interim felony suspension is the appropriate sanction in this case. Because Hunter will be eligible to petition this court for reinstatement immediately upon the issuance of our decision and order in this case, this sanction cannot be considered a de facto disbarment.

Justice Fischer

I disagree with the majority’s decision to give Hunter credit for the time that she has served under her interim felony suspension. Hunter committed a felony offense, acted with a selfish motive, and has taken no responsibility for her actions—she has consistently and unfairly blamed others for her prosecution and hardships. This court should indefinitely suspend Hunter from the practice of law with no credit for the time she has already served. Thus, I respectfully concur in part and dissent in part...

Hunter has unequivocally expressed to this court through her brief and at oral argument that she does not acknowledge any wrongdoing and instead blames this court, the board, disciplinary counsel, and other legal professionals for her legal situation. Hunter takes on the role of victim, alleging that “the Ohio Supreme Court, in concert with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, and Ohio and Hamilton County Republican Parties” have used “unprecedented legal intervention and aggressive intimidation” to try to prevent Hunter from becoming a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge. Hunter maintains that her case “exposes that the Ohio Supreme Court operates a clandestine, arbitrary system of discipline and applies different standards of law and ethics, depending on the ethnicity and political affiliation of the accused.” Hunter further expresses that the board “hypocritically and discriminatorily allows members of the bar with powerful family members, political connections and money [who] openly violate the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct to avoid discipline and escape prosecution, but targets lawyers that report and expose them for removal.” She asserts that her case reveals “two systems of justice,” one for her and one for “the elite.” During her oral argument, Hunter alleged that disciplinary counsel acted hypocritically in charging her with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct after she was convicted of a fourth-degree felony offense but not charging other members of the bench who she believes have also committed wrongdoing but who have never been charged with crimes. Hunter believes that her case demonstrates that the entirety of the legal system is colluding against her. But this assertion could not be further from the truth.

Justice Lewis joined the concurring/dissenting opinion. (Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2023/11/the-ohio-supreme-court-has-indefinitely-suspended-a-former-judge-with-credit-for-time-served-hunters-indictment-was-based.html

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