Disciplinary Counsel v. Carr, 2021-1518

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam.
Citation2022 Ohio 3633
PartiesDisciplinary Counsel v. Carr.
Docket Number2021-1518
Decision Date18 October 2022

2022-Ohio-3633

Disciplinary Counsel
v.

Carr.

No. 2021-1518

Supreme Court of Ohio

October 18, 2022


Submitted April 12, 2022

On Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court, No. 2020-054.

Joseph M. Caligiuri, Disciplinary Counsel, and Michelle A. Hall, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, for relator.

Koblentz & Penvose, L.L.C., Richard S. Koblentz, Nicholas E. Froning, and Bryan L. Penvose, for respondent.

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Per Curiam.

{¶ 1} 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.

{¶ 2} 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.

{¶ 3} 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.

{¶ 4} 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

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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.

{¶ 5} 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.

{¶ 6} 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.

I. MISCONDUCT

A. Count One-Issuing Capias Warrants and Making False Statements

{¶ 7} In March 2020, Judge Michelle Earley, the administrative and presiding judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court, issued an administrative order suspending most courthouse activity in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Judge Earley ordered that all civil and criminal cases set for hearing between March 16 and April 3, 2020, be rescheduled for three weeks after the originally scheduled date. The order directed the clerk of courts to issue summonses to all of the affected criminal defendants, compelling them to appear on the newly scheduled date, and similarly directed that all parties to the affected civil cases be notified of the postponement.

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{¶ 8} Despite Judge Earley's order, Carr did not reschedule cases set on her docket. On Monday, March 16, she presided over her regular docket-including eight criminal cases in which the defendants had not been jailed. In each of those cases, Carr issued capias warrants for the defendants who did not appear in court. Her verbal statements on the record and her journal entries noted the defendants' failure to appear; she issued capias warrants for their arrest and set bonds ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.

{¶ 9} In contrast, Carr waived fines and court costs for defendants who were "brave enough" to appear in court despite the potential for exposure to COVID-19. And Carr informed the public defender assigned to her courtroom that defendants represented by that office should continue to appear in court contrary to the court's press release regarding the administrative order.

{¶ 10} On Tuesday, March 17, Carr presided over her regular docket as though the administrative order had never been issued. Only a few nonjailed defendants and their counsel appeared. Carr issued capias warrants and set bonds for seven defendants who did not appear. When the public defender assigned to Carr's courtroom asked whether his clients should plan to be in court the following day, Carr stated that they should. The public defender then mentioned the administrative order and asked if there was any concern regarding COVID-19, but Carr replied that not everyone watches the news and that the public defender should not tell people to not show up, because she would be in court. Shortly after the public defender left the courtroom, Carr turned to her staff and mocked him, calling him a "little idiot."

{¶ 11} After clearing her March 17 docket, Carr learned that pursuant to the administrative order, Matthew Woyma, the person responsible for scheduling the court's cases, had cancelled her civil docket for March 26. In open court, she instructed her bailiff to tell Woyma "to get his ass back on that phone and put all [her] civil cases back on." Woyma had already sent written notices of

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postponement to all parties. As a result of Carr's directive, Woyma had to notify every party to appear in court as originally scheduled.

{¶ 12} On March 17, The Plain Dealer published an article on its website, Cleveland.com, with the headline "Cleveland judge flouts court's postponements amid coronavirus pandemic, issues warrants for no-shows." See https://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/2020/03/cleveland-judge-flouts-courts-postponements-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-issues-warrants-for-no-shows.html (accessed July 25, 2022) [https://perma.cc/4U2E-U9UM]. Carr continued to conduct hearings.

{¶ 13} Throughout the morning of March 18, Carr criticized Cleveland.com for accurately reporting that she was issuing warrants for people who did not come to court. Between proceedings, Carr granted an interview to a reporter from a local television station in which she claimed that the Cleveland.com article was "untrue" and "reckless." She also denied issuing any arrest warrants for defendants who had failed to appear for proceedings in her courtroom that week. After the interview, Carr continued to talk with the reporter who asked, "And you are not, to be clear, you are not issuing any warrants?" Carr replied, "Absolutely not." However, that statement was untrue.

{¶ 14} In a text-message exchange with Judge Earley later that day, Carr continued to falsely characterize her actions. When Judge Earley asked Carr if she was issuing warrants for people who failed to appear, Carr responded, "Too late to ask that ridiculous question. My [journal entries] reflect corona day 1, 2, or 3. Time case was called and no defendant or [failed to appear] in which my journalizer notes NO WARRANT TO ISSUE." (Capitalization sic.) That statement was patently false because none of Carr's journal entries included the phrase "no warrant to issue." On March 20, the print edition of The Plain Dealer published an editorial about Judge Carr's continuing to hold court in spite of the administrative order.

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Judge Carr Put People at Risk in Defying Order of Court, The Plain Dealer (Mar. 20, 2020) E2.

{¶ 15} The board found that Carr's failure to follow the administrative order proved to be a costly burden to the administration of justice. When Judge Earley learned that Carr had, in fact, issued arrest warrants, she had to review all of Carr's entries, recall the warrants, set bonds, and issue summonses for the next court appearances. She also had to reschedule the civil cases that Carr had reset for March 26.

{¶ 16} The Office of the Public Defender for Cuyahoga County filed a complaint in the Eighth District Court of Appeals seeking writs of mandamus and prohibition to compel Carr's compliance with the administrative order. That office also filed an affidavit of disqualification with the chief justice of this court, alleging that Carr had acted with a "calculated bias and disregard" for the welfare of those named in the affidavit and all other defendants appearing before her. The court of appeals granted alternative writs of mandamus and prohibition, sua sponte, ordering Carr to comply with Judge Earley's March 13, 2020 administrative order and issuing a stay of all orders and capias warrants issued by Carr after that date, and the chief justice disqualified Carr from presiding over the criminal and traffic cases of nonjailed defendants for the duration of Judge Earley's order.

{¶ 17} The board...

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