Login | October 23, 2020

Lucas County judge sanctioned for interfering in another judge’s case

DAN TREVAS
Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: October 6, 2020

The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued a fully stayed six-month suspension to Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael R. Goulding for interfering in a case assigned to another judge in order to do a favor for a friend.
In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that Judge Goulding violated three rules governing the conduct of Ohio judges, including abusing the prestige of his office to advance his personal or economic interests. The Court also noted the Board of Professional Conduct concluded that Judge Goulding self-reported his infractions only after it was clear that the county prosecutor’s office was aware of his interference.
Judge Goulding and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigated the matter, proposed that the Court adopt a public reprimand for the judge. Pointing to six similar cases involving judicial officers, the board noted the sanctions in past cases have ranged from a public reprimand to an actual six-month suspension. The Court adopted the board’s recommendation that Judge Goulding’s actions warranted a stayed suspension.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, and Melody J. Stewart joined the opinion. Justice Patrick F. Fischer did not participate in the case.
Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote that he agreed with the bulk of the Court majority’s conclusions, but would impose a public reprimand.
Judge Intervenes on Behalf of Friends
In February 2019, a Lucas County grand jury indicted a teenage boy, identified in court records as C.G., for three second-degree felony counts of illegal use of a minor in a nudity-oriented performance. On a Friday, C.G. was arrested and held without bail in the Lucas County jail.
C.G.’s case was assigned to Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph McNamara, and C.G.’s arraignment hearing was scheduled for the following Tuesday. On Sunday, two days before the court date, Judge Goulding received a call from longtime friends who asked him to come to their home for an emergency.
Judge Goulding arrived to find his friend’s teen daughter had locked herself in her room following the arrest of her boyfriend -- C.G. Judge Goulding used his cell phone to call the Lucas County Pretrial Services Department, where an officer answering the call knew he was a judge. After confirming that C.G. was in custody, the judge asked the officer about the pending charges.
The officer informed the judge that C.G. was charged with several felonies, and that C.G. was also on probation for an aggravated-menacing conviction in Maumee Municipal Court.
Judge Goulding was told about the Tuesday arraignment date, and he learned the pretrial services department was recommending C.G. be released from jail on bond and with an order prohibiting him from having contact with the alleged victim, a minor girl who was not the daughter of Judge Goulding’s friends.
Judge Orders Suspect’s Release
Judge Goulding ordered the jail to immediately release C.G. on a recognizance bond with a no-contact order. While the judge was at the friends’ home, the daughter began speaking to C.G. on her cell phone, which she handed to Judge Goulding. The judge told C.G. he would be released to his parents in about an hour.
While the teen and her boyfriend talked on the phone, Judge Goulding sent a text message to an attorney he believed, and later confirmed, was representing C.G. He told the attorney he released C.G. on bond. While still at the friends’ home, the judge learned from his friend about the circumstances of the charges C.G. faced and that he had been expelled from two schools for drug-related behavior.
Judge Goulding took C.G.’s girlfriend’s phone and spoke directly to him. The judge learned more about the teen’s prior conviction and the current case. Those phone calls were recorded by the Lucas County jail’s phone system.
On the day of the scheduled arraignment, Judge Goulding left a message with Judge McNamara, informing him of the bond he had set for C.G. Judge Goulding did not inform C.G.’s attorney that he had engaged in an ex parte communication with C.G. where he learned information about the case, and he did not inform the prosecutor’s office that he had spoken with C.G. or that he had C.G. released from jail.
Rule Infractions Discovered
While preparing for the case against C.G., an assistant county prosecutor listened to C.G.’s jail calls and recognized Judge Goulding’s voice. The prosecutor informed his supervisor and notified the judge he would be listed as a state’s witness in the case. Judge Goulding then realized his actions may have violated the Judicial Code of Conduct, and he self-reported his actions to the disciplinary counsel.
C.G. later pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges in exchange for the dismissal of the three felony charges. The disciplinary counsel and Judge Goulding stipulated that the judge’s communications with C.G. did not impact the outcome of the case.
In February 2020, the disciplinary counsel filed a complaint with the professional conduct board against Judge Goulding based on his actions regarding C.G. The parties stipulated, and the board agreed, that Judge Goulding violated the rule requiring a judge at all times to act in a manner that promotes independence, integrity, and impartiality, and that generally prohibits a judge from engaging in ex parte communications.
The parties sought to dismiss the allegation that Judge Goulding abused the prestige of his office, but the board concluded that he violated that rule. The board found that without the judge’s intervention, C.G. would not have been released from jail two days before his arraignment.
In recommending to the Court that Judge Goulding receive a six-month stayed suspension, the board noted that his conduct appeared to violate two other rules, which prohibit a judge from independently investigating the facts of a matter, and prohibiting “family, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.”
The board reported to the Court that while Judge Goulding admitted to violating two rules, “he downplayed his offenses and failed to offer any plausible explanation for his misconduct.”
Judge Goulding testified during the disciplinary proceedings that he thought his initial conversation with C.G. was legally inconsequential, and that he gathered more information above and beyond what the family had requested about C.G.’s status in jail because he had second thoughts about releasing him on bond. He also said he issued C.G.’s release out of “habit” by setting bail in another judge’s case.
The board found the judge would not have self-reported his misconduct had the assistant prosecutor not informed the judge that he would be a potential witness in the case.
“On these facts, the board was not convinced that [Judge] Goulding appreciated the gravity and inappropriateness of his conduct,” the opinion stated.
The Court adopted the board’s recommendation that the judge receive a six-month suspension, stayed with the conditions that he complete an additional two hours of continuing legal education in the area of judicial ethics and not commit further misconduct. The Court also charged the judge with the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
The case is cited 2020-0738. Disciplinary Counsel v. Goulding, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-4588.


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