Login | October 17, 2021

Ohio judge suspended for Facebook chatting with defendant

Technology for Lawyers

Published: September 17, 2021

It had to happen eventually. And if not in Florida, why not in Ohio? Remember, kids: Your social media conversations are not private. No matter what you think (or don’t think).
Ottawa County Common Pleas Judge Paul Winters, who is the sole judge in that court’s general and domestic relations division, recently received a fully suspended six-month suspension from the practice of law by the Ohio Supreme Court for engaging in an ongoing, inappropriate, ex parte social media conversation with a defendant in his courtroom. Winters has been in that position since 2008.
Well, there was more to it than that.
Before he became a judge, Winter was a probation officer in Ottawa County. One of his probationers was a man named Keith Blumensaadt, who was his charge in the early 1980’s.
Fast forward to June 2017, and Blumensaadt is standing in front of Judge Winter on 12 felony and one misdemeanor count. At the time, Winter disclosed his prior relationship with Blumensaadt to the prosecutor and defense attorney. Neither had a problem with Winter presiding over that case.
Forward again to 2019, when Winter approved a plea deal for Blumensaadt to plead guilty to two of the felonies and the misdemeanor. Blumensaadt had been in jail for the year and was released for time served. At the same time, he had a restraining order against him placed there by family members.
Well, within a month, the judge and the defendant were communicating via Facebook Messenger. Note here that two people have to be Facebook friends to be able to use Messenger to communicate. Blumensaadt messaged the judge with a request for the sentencing of a defendant in the judge’s court. Winter imposed a sentence without disclosing that conversation.
They next communicated about some custody issues Blumensaadt was having. The judge gave him advice about that. Later, the judge gave him advice on a personal injury matter. All via Messenger and none of it disclosed to anyone.
Blumensaadt also messaged the judge about his protection order, which he modified sua sponte.
After he got caught, the Court noted that the judge had no prior disciplinary problems, showed remorse, fully cooperated, and closed his social media accounts. So his suspension was suspended.
So, maybe someone can take a lesson from this. I have no words, myself.