“Unprecedented misconduct”

Adopting the findings of the Board of Professional Conduct, which were based on stipulations, the Ohio Supreme Court indefinitely suspended a judge without pay for (1) refusing to comply with an administrative order during the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing capias warrants to defendants who did not appear in court, and lying about issuing the warrants to the press and to the presiding judge; (2) in numerous criminal cases, engaging in ex parte communications and improper plea bargaining with defendants, rendering arbitrary dispositions, unilaterally amending the charges and falsely attributing those amendments to the prosecutor, and falsely stating that she had conducted ability-to-pay hearings; (3) using capias warrants and bonds to compel payment of fines and court costs; (4) exhibiting a lack of decorum and dignity, including in her attire, her “unkempt bench,” and her demeaning treatment of defendants; and (5) abusing her contempt power after becoming personally embroiled with a defendant.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Carr (Ohio Supreme Court October 18, 2022).  The judge’s reinstatement is conditioned on her submission of a report from a healthcare professional stating that she is able to return to the competent, ethical, and professional practice of law and proof of compliance with her Ohio Lawyers Assistant Program contract. 

The Court emphasized:

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.

The judge argued that a mental disorder was a contributing cause of her misconduct, specifically, a generalized-anxiety disorder and a mood disorder due to menopause, sleep apnea, and stress.  Although the Board accepted her psychologist’s diagnoses and treatment recommendations, it found that the judge “had failed to establish a causal link between her current mental disorders and her past misconduct. . . .”

(1) For a longer discussion of the judge’s misconduct related to the COVID administrative order, see last week’s post

(2) In 34 cases between May 2019 and December 2020, the judge engaged in ex parte communications and improper plea bargaining with defendants and made arbitrary rulings.  In at least 6 of the 34 cases, the judge unilaterally amended the charges against the defendants and in her judgment entries, falsely attributed those amendments to the prosecutor.  In at least 24 of the 34 cases, the judge falsely stated in journal entries that she had conducted ability-to-pay hearings and determined that the defendants were unable to pay fines or costs.

The judge admitted that she routinely conducted hearings without a prosecutor present to avoid complying with procedural safeguards.  In open court, the judge “unabashedly” told her staff one day, “[T]he prosecutor isn’t here.  Let’s see how much we can get away with,” and on another occasion, told a defendant, “Well the prosecutor isn’t here, so we need to get as many of these done before he or she gets here . . . .”  She then offered the defendant a plea deal that he accepted. 

The judge unilaterally recommended pleas to unrepresented defendants when no prosecutor was present and accepted the pleas without explanation or a discussion of the consequences.  After unilaterally entering no-contest pleas, the judge routinely found the defendants not guilty or after finding the defendants guilty, arbitrarily waived fines and costs without any inquiry into the defendant’s ability to pay, falsifying her journal entries to conceal her actions.  The judge frequently stated that she was waiving fines and costs because the defendant’s birth date was close to the date of the hearing, a holiday, her own birthday, or the birth date of a family member or friend.

(3) After being told that the clerk’s office had a very low success rate collecting fines levied by the court, the judge began using capias warrants and incarceration to compel payment, which, as she admitted in the disciplinary hearing, “essentially created a modern-day debtors’ prison.”  The judge would set ability-to-pay hearings for a few days after a defendant’s payment was due without notifying the defendant.  Then when the defendant failed to appear for the hearing, she would issue a capias warrant and set a bond between $2,500 and $25,000 even though the defendant’s fines and costs were typically just hundreds of dollars.  She would write on the journal entry, “Post bond or pay fines and costs in full.  No [Community Work Service]/TTP.”  She would also stamp on the journal entry “DEFENDANT DOES NOT QUALIFY FOR IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OR OVER THE COUNTER.  JUDGE PINKEY S. CARR.”

(4) The judge’s bench was covered with “dolls, cups, novelty items, and junk.”  She presided over her courtroom wearing workout attire, including tank tops, t-shirts (some with images or slogans), above-the-knee spandex shorts, and sneakers.  The Board found that the judge “reveled in her lack of decorum,” knowing “that “the public took notice of her unconventional appearance.”  For example, when a defendant expressed surprise that he had been found not guilty, the judge responded, “You can trust me.  I know I’m not dressed like a judge, but I’m really the judge.”

The judge was loud and boisterous, used a singsong tone, and on at least one occasion, used a really loud voice when speaking to a defendant.  During a series of proceedings in open court, the judge maintained a dialogue with her staff and defendants about the television series P-Valley, which is set in a strip club. 

The Court noted that, although the judge “frequently behaved as though the rules of courtroom decorum did not apply to her, she did not hesitate to correct defendants for seemingly minor infractions.”  She repeatedly admonished defendants for standing with their hands crossed or in their pockets instead of at their sides and screamed at them when they indicated that they had not heard what she said.  She resented being called “ma’am,” berating defendants who used that honorific and chastising male defendants who referred to her as “ma’am” by calling them “little boy.”

On multiple occasions in open court, the judge joked that she would be open to some form of bribe in return for a lenient sentence and talked with defendants about accepting kickbacks and arranging “hookups” for herself and her staff.  For example, when E.W. appeared before the judge to request reinstatement of his driving privileges, after being informed that E.W. worked for an automotive company, the judge told her staff, “I got us another hookup.  We could get our cars fixed here,” and she stated that she had already gotten them some flooring and carpet.  E.W. told her to bring their cars in and that the company would love to take care of them.  The judge replied, “Always getting us the hookups.  Don’t worry, we don’t have to pay.  It’s on him.”

(5) In May 2019, 20-year-old A.B. and her 19-year-old sister C.B. were arraigned before the judge on misdemeanor counts of assault and disorderly conduct for allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old girl.  The Board found that the video of the arraignment demonstrated that the judge “took an immediate dislike to A.B.”

The judge told the public defender representing the sisters that A.B. “is going to get plenty of time with me.”  While the public defender conferred with her clients, the judge gave a monologue in a singsong voice about how nice it would be to have “company” in her courtroom, and she expressed her hope that A.B.’s case would be assigned to her.  She paused from time to time to laugh or hum a tune.

A.B. muttered something to the deputy, and the judge snapped, “What did she say?  She said this Court is f***ked.  What did she say?  Oh, okay.  Corny as f**k.  Okay, corny as f**k.”  A.B. responded, “I said corny the way you’re treating me.  Like, I didn’t do—.”  The judge interrupted her, saying, “Oh, no problem.  Uh-huh.  Close your mouth.  Don’t interrupt my courtroom.  You don’t want to have a problem with me.  I told you that when—.”  At that point A.B. said something else.  The judge raised her voice and twice told A.B., “Close your mouth.”  As A.B. continued to talk, the judge said, “Say one more thing,” and then to her bailiff, “Take her in the back for me, please.  Uh-huh.  Bye bye.”

A.B. left the courtroom in tears and remained in the lockup area for several hours until the judge had her brought back to the courtroom.  At that time, court staff informed the judge that while in the holding cell, A.B. had repeatedly referred to the judge as a “b**ch” so loudly that another judge had to close his courtroom doors.

When the public defender encouraged A.B. to speak, A.B. said, “It doesn’t matter.  You don’t care.”  The judge asked A.B., “You think it’s acceptable behavior to call me 50 b**ches and say that the courtroom—this is some corny a** sh*t?”  A.B. said, “No, I’m trying to explain myself.  I walked up to the stand.  You read the paper.  You didn’t even let me talk.  You automatically changed your attitude from happy to just anything, like you was just basing me off of what—basically, just reading me off of a piece of paper.”  The judge started to talk and then she accused A.B. of rolling her eyes.  As A.B. was led from the courtroom, the judge told the public defender that she could tell A.B. had a “screw loose.”

The judge charged A.B. with 3 counts of contempt of court.  In an affidavit supporting those charges, the judge stated that A.B. “while in a courtroom, * * * did repeatedly refer to the court as a ‘b**ch,’ and called the courtroom ‘sh*t’” even though she did not personally hear A.B. say anything disrespectful but had heard that from court staff.

On August 13, A.B. appeared in the judge’s courtroom with counsel and pleaded guilty to 1 charge of contempt.  Before imposing a sentence, the judge inaccurately summarized A.B.’s actions at her arraignment, falsely stating that A.B. had said, “I don’t have to look at you.”  The judge sentenced A.B. to 30 days in jail with 15 days suspended and 5 years of active probation; she imposed a $250 fine, which she suspended, and ordered A.B. to complete anger-management classes and read an apology letter aloud in open court on September 4.

During her disciplinary hearing, the judge admitted that charging A.B. with contempt for rolling her eyes in court and cursing in lockup was an abuse of her discretion.  Noting that A.B. had not acted out physically, refused a lawful order, failed to cooperate, or engaged in any conduct that constituted an immediate threat to the administration of justice, the Board found that it was not apparent that A.B. had done anything to warrant the sentence the judge imposed.

On September 4, A.B. appeared in court with her apology letter.  A.B.’s attorney was late, but the judge proceeded with the hearing.  Even though A.B. had completed the sentence imposed on August 13, the judge ordered her to submit to random substance abuse testing and to write an additional letter entitled, “How would you feel if I called your mother a b**ch?”  The judge “continued to torment A.B. before her attorney arrived and gave the courtroom audience her own—not entirely accurate—version of A.B.’s underlying offense and behavior at her May 2019 arraignment.”  A.B. told the courtroom audience that the judge’s recitation of the case was inaccurate and continuously interrupted the judge.  After one interjection, the judge asked, “What did she say?”  Her bailiff responded, “This is bullsh*t.”  The judge responded, “This is some bullsh*t?  Juanita, put her in the holding cell for me.  Uh-hmm.  Contempt charge again.  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  In the holding cell.  Bye-bye.  I’m not finished with this.”  A.B. attempted to interrupt the judge several times to explain that she had not only said, “Oh my goodness.”  A.B., who was then hysterical, was taken to the holding cell.

In October 2020, A.B. pled no contest to the second contempt charge.  The judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail and fined her $250 before suspending that sentence and waiving costs. 

In the disciplinary proceedings, the judge admitted that she had instigated the incident that led her to cite A.B. for contempt the second time by antagonizing A.B. from the bench and being rude and discourteous.  The Board found that because of her embroilment with A.B., the judge should have recused herself from both contempt cases.

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