16:48, August 14 252 0 abajournal.com

2019-08-14 16:48:06
Former Ohio judge who wrongly defined rape, made demeaning comments gets suspension

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A former Ohio judge has been suspended from law practice for a range of misconduct that included failing to follow precedent when he ruled that a defendant had not committed rape because he didn’t penetrate the victim far enough.

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended former Judge James Burge of Lorain County for one year, with six months stayed and credit for a few months served on an interim suspension. Court News Ohio, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland.com and the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram have coverage.

Burge also had made demeaning comments to defendants and a state lawmaker, failed to disclose his financial interest in a building, and assigned court-appointed cases to lawyers who were his tenants, according to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Aug. 13 opinion.

The court noted several mitigating factors. Burge had no prior record of discipline, displayed a cooperative attitude, acknowledged the wrongful nature of his conduct, and showed genuine remorse. The court also noted that all Burge’s misconduct happened when he was a judge.

The court included specifics of the allegations. The opinion said that Burge:

• Disregarded precedent when he granted a motion of acquittal for a defendant accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. Burge acquitted the defendant of rape because he thought the defendant had not penetrated the 14-year-old victim deeply enough to qualify under statutory standards. Burge did convict the man on a charge of gross sexual imposition. Burge sentenced the defendant to 17 months in prison but granted a motion for judicial release less than four months later. Burge later admitted at his disciplinary hearing that he had disregarded established precedent when he acquitted the defendant on the rape charge.

• Used court stationery to write to three state representatives to express his views on proposed legislation. In his letter, Burge characterized one state lawmaker and his proposed bill as “nothing more than the hobgoblin of a small-minded, mouth-breathing, tea party type whose political style and abilities uniquely qualify him to do nothing.” The letter also said an appeals court on which the lawmaker had served was at one time “an affirmative action program for intellectually challenged, Summit County Republican lawyers.”

• While presiding in court proceedings, referred to white defendants as “crackers” and black or Latino defendants as “homeboys.”

• In one case, told a defendant, “I was looking forward to putting you in the pen. And I would have paid 50 bucks to give you a beating before you went.”

• In one case, asked a defendant how he came to possess stolen property. Burge said, “Now, if I were to believe you were that stupid, James, I would just have Deputy Motelewski shoot you right now because I know you’re not going to make it through life. Just tell me you knew it was stolen, that’s all.”

• Failed to disclose on financial disclosure forms his ownership interest in an office building and failed to list the bank that gave him a mortgage as a creditor. Jurors convicted Burge for tampering with records and falsification in connection with the allegations. A judge reduced convictions that were felonies to misdemeanors because of a problem with the jury-verdict form. Burge resigned his judgeship after the April 2015 verdict. He was placed on an interim suspension, which was lifted when the felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors.

• Failed to disclose that several lawyers appearing before him in court were tenants in the building that he partly owned. He appointed five of those lawyers to represent indigent defendants in cases before him. He also approved court-appointed fees to two of his lawyer tenants.

Four judges joined in the per curiam opinion. Two judges would not have given Burge credit for time on the interim suspension. A dissenting judge would have imposed a two-year suspension with one year stayed.

Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.