CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday kicked longtime Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Carr off the bench and temporarily stripped her of her law license for committing a level of misconductthe majority of justices called “unprecedented.”
The justices voted 5-2 to indefinitely suspend the law license of Carr, the vivacious former assistant county prosecutor who ascended to judgeship in 2012 after helping send serial killer Anthony Sowell to death row.
Carr will be suspended from judicial office without pay. The state’s high court also on Tuesday ordered Carr to immediately “cease and desist” practicing law.
“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 Supreme Court opinion said. “That misconduct warrants an indefinite suspension from the practice of law.”
The sanction is the most severe punishment the court can hand down short of disbarment.
Carr can apply to have the court reinstate her law license after two years, but she must first convince the justices that she has sufficiently addressed the issues that led the court to take her license.
The court’s majority handed down a more severe punishment than the two-year suspension sought by the court’s Board of Professional Conduct, which said that Carr “ruled her courtroom in a reckless and cavalier manner, unrestrained by the law or the court’s rules.”
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and justices Patrick Fischer and Jennifer Brunner joined the court’s per curium opinion. First Ohio District Court of Appeals Judge Beth Myers and 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Sadler, who sat in place of justices Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, also joined the majority. Donnelly and Stewart, who are both from Cuyahoga County, recused themselves from hearing the case.
Justice Sharon Kennedy agreed with the findings of misconduct, but she wrote in a dissenting opinion that she would not have exceeded the conduct board’s recommendation of a two-year suspension. Justice Patrick DeWine joined Kennedy’s dissent.
The majority wrote in Tuesday’s opinion that the court has previously suspended sitting judges who committed a single act of misconduct. Carr’s misdeeds spanned two years and led to multiple people being wrongly arrested and deprived of their liberty, the majority of the justices wrote.
Carr, who had previously sought to explain her misconduct as the result of a mood disorder brought on by mistreated sleep apnea and menopause, asked the court to suspend her for two years with 18 months stayed.
Carr could not be reached for comment.
“We’re disappointed with the severity of the sanction,” Richard Koblentz, the attorney who represented her in her disciplinary case, told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.
Koblentz said that Carr apologized for her conduct and admitted to all of the misconduct she was accused of committing during the disciplinary process.
He said he did not know what Carr planned to do in the future.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will appoint someone to take Carr’s seat until voters elect her replacement at a future election.
Carr’s legal troubles do not end there. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office confirmed to cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that it has been appointed as a special prosecutor to review whether enough evidence exists to charge Carr with a crime.
It’s unclear how long that review might take.
Carr becomes the first practicing judge in Cleveland to be removed from her seat since 2014, when the Ohio Supreme Court temporarily suspended Angela Stokes while her disciplinary case was pending. Stokes later resigned and agreed to not run for judge again, and the court reinstated her law license in 2016.
Carr’s courtroom was empty shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday. Her name was removed from the bench.
The investigation into Carr began at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, when she held in-person hearings on March 16 and 17, despite an order from the court’s Administrative Judge Michelle Earley declaring that all such hearings would be postponed.
Carr, who mocked an attorney who admitted to being nervous about being in the courtroom, issued arrest warrants for more than a dozen people who didn’t show up.
After cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer reported about the hearings, Carr told Earley that she did not issue the warrants, according to authorities. She repeated that in an interview with WJW Channel 8.
Carr said she held the hearings for those defendants who showed up and were unaware that their hearings had been postponed. For those who didn’t show up, she said, she simply checked a box on court filings that indicated that they did not show up.
“As far as issuing warrants for their arrest? Absolutely untrue,” Carr told the TV station.
cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer requested copies of video from Carr’s courtroom that showed her issuing arrest warrants for people who did not show up in the days before the interview and then immediately afterward.
The Supreme Court’s office of disciplinary counsel investigates allegations of misconduct against lawyers and judges. It opened an investigation into Carr that later expanded to her conduct over several years.
The examination found that Carr was jailing people in an effort to compel them to pay fines to make more money for the court. It also revealed that Carr once ordered a woman to spend 15 days in jail because the woman rolled her eyes and made disparaging remarks about Carr’s courtroom during a hearing. Carr berated the woman, held a contempt hearing, which she failed to recuse herself from, and mischaracterized her actions as a basis to send her to jail, the court found.
She negotiated plea deals with defendants on behalf of city prosecutors who were not present and then falsified journal entries that said prosecutors were involved — an act that the court’s majority said in its opinion could amount to the crime of falsification.
“The severity and scope of [Carr’s] judicial misconduct are unprecedented in Ohio,” the disciplinary counsel’s filing said.
Carr also initially misled her character witnesses and her psychiatrist by telling them that she was facing discipline because she did not check the correct box on a form that then triggered the warrants to be issued. After the disciplinary counsel filed an amended complaint, Carr acknowledged committing the misconduct.
Carr also entered the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, a treatment program for attorneys with substance abuse or mental health issues and began a mentorship program with Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg. Carr sat in Synenberg’s courtroom and watched her demeanor.
Tuesday’s opinion noted that Carr’s attorneys had asked the court to find that negative stories in the press about Carr’s misconduct amounted to a sanction and counted as mitigating evidence.
The majority of the justices wrote that they “decline to find that truthful media reports of Judge Carr’s flagrant disregard of the administrative order suspending most courthouse activity in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic constitute” mitigating evidence.
If you purchase a product or register for an account through one of the links on our site, we may receive compensation.
Around the Web
Reblogged this on Justice for Everyone Blog.