Judge Oldfield was a newly minted Akron Municipal Court judge when she was the passenger in a car driven by the public defender assigned to her courtroom. Just before 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, the judge and public defender were parked in a strip mall parking lot when a police officer approached the vehicle. When the officer proceeded to request the public defender to get out of the car to perform field sobriety tests, the judge told them she was the one who had been drinking. In response to an inquiry about whether she was “some kind of lawyer,” the judge told the officers she was a judge. There was conflicting testimony about whether the judge also said, “Will it help if I tell you I’m a judge.”

After the public defender’s arrest and processing, she was driven along with the judge, to the judge’s residence where she lived for the next three days pending the restoration of her diving privileges. During that time the judge drove the public defender to and from work. Despite this, the judge continued to preside over the public defender’s cases. The judge presided over 53 of the public defender’s cases before she was rotated out of the judge’s courtroom.

Although the Supreme Court of Ohio applied an objective test, the Court did not find a violation of Rule 1.3 [A judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others]. Because the judge allowed the public defender to live with her and because the judge was a potential witness in the public defender’s criminal case, she should have recused herself from all of the public defender’s cases. Under these circumstances the judge’s actions and decisions created a situation where her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” This constituted a violation of Jud. Rule 2.11(A). In addition, by creating this appearance of impropriety, the judge “failed to promote public confidence in the judiciary” and this resulted in a violation of Rule 1.2. The Supreme Court noted “this impression of bias arises whether the law-breaking associate appears in the judge’s courtroom as a defendant or as a lawyer.”

In total, the judge’s actions also were a violation of Prof. Cond. R. 8.4(d) [A lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice].

In the absence of any harm to a litigant in the judge’s courtroom and in view of the mitigating factors, the court imposed a public reprimand for the judge’s misconduct.

You can view the entire opinion (No. 2014-Ohio-2963) on the Supreme Court of Ohio website.