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State board recommends 2-year suspension for Cleveland judge for over 100 incidents of misconduct

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Posted at 1:57 PM, Dec 13, 2021

CLEVELAND — The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct has recommended that the law license of a Cleveland Municipal Court judge be suspended for two years for over 100 serious incidents of misconduct over the last two years, including continuing to hold hearings in March 2020 after the courthouse was closed due to the pandemic.

In a 58-page report filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio by the Board of Professional Conduct on Friday, Judge Pinkey Susan Carr is accused of dozens of instances of misconduct over two years that fall into five broad categories and counts:

  • Issuance Capiases and False Statements
  • Ex Parte Communications, Improper Plea Bargaining, Arbitrary Dispositions
  • Improper use of Capiases and Bond to Compel Payment of Fines and Court Costs
  • Public Confidence, Lack of Decorum and Dignity Consistent with Judicial Office
  • Abuse of Contempt Power and Failure to Recuse

The first count concerns events in March 2020, after the administrative and presiding judge for the Cleveland Municipal Court issued an order essentially suspending courthouse activity in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The report filed by the board states that despite the order, Carr did not reschedule her cases and issued warrants for defendants who failed to appear. She also “rewarded” defendants who did show up in court by waiving fines and costs and rescinding warrants.

In the filing, the board accuses Carr of lying to two media outlets, claiming that she had not issued warrants for people who did not come to court.

“In brief, Respondent [Carr] very publicly flouted her disregard of an administrative order that was designed to ensure the safety of the public and the court’s personnel during the pandemic,” the report states. “She punished members of the public who followed that order and lied about it to the press and to the presiding and administrative judge of her court. This created the very danger that administrative order was intended to prevent—the spread of the coronavirus to the public and court’s staff by way of open court hearings.”

The board’s report accuses Carr of routinely conducting hearings without the prosecutor present “to avoid compliance with procedural safeguards without interference from the city’s legal counsel. “

According to the report, Carr also recommended pleas to unrepresented defendants with no prosecutor present, accepted pleas without explanation or discussion, routinely dismissed cases after unilaterally entering no contest pleas on behalf of defendants, and waived fines and costs without inquiry as to defendants’ ability to pay.

The board accused Carr of ignoring the court’s established procedure to set up contracts to pay fines and costs at the time of sentencing. The report alleges she set her own “Ability to Pay Hearings” without notifying the defendant or clerk’s office, then would issue a capias ordering the arrest of the defendant and set a bond.

The board took issue with Carr’s “lack of decorum and dignity consistent with judicial office,” accusing her of wearing inappropriate attire to the courtroom, such as tank tops, shorts, T-shirts and sneakers.

The report states that Carr also frequently references “Paradise Valley,” a Starz television series about a Mississippi strip club, when speaking with her staff and defendants, “all this while lawyers and their clients waited to have their matters resolved and the public watched.”

The board’s report also states that Carr “routinely speaks in an undignified manner,” berating defendants who call her “ma’am,” and joking about accepting bribes and kick-backs from defendants. Carr “does this in a joking manner, but it is clear from the reaction of the defendants who come before her that they, and presumably others in the courtroom, do not always perceive it as a joke,” the report states.

The board’s report details one case in 2019 during which Carr charged a defendant with contempt of court, alleging that the defendant called her a disrespectful term in the courtroom when the defendant had actually made the statements outside the courtroom, and they were relayed to the judge by the court staff. Carr then failed to recuse herself in the contempt case in spite of her involvement in the matter.

A disciplinary complaint was filed against Carr in September of 2020, and at the urging of her counsel, she consulted a psychologist in May of 2021, the report states.

At a disciplinary hearing in August, Carr told a panel that the effects of sleep apnea and menopause led to her “intemperate behavior on the bench.”

The board’s report states: “it is difficult to perceive how ridiculing defendants, lawyers, and others in her court, likening herself to a character in a television series about a fictional Mississippi strip club while conducting the court’s business, waiving fines and costs because a defendant was born in the same month as her college friend, suggesting ‘hook-ups’ as a quid pro quo for lenient treatment, dressing in gym attire, and holding court behind a bench littered with the detritus of an adolescent’s bedroom, can be attributed to menopause or lack of sleep. Countless lawyers and judges have dealt with fatigue and menopause during their careers without violating the rules of professional conduct.”

Carr presented expert testimony and a report from a clinical psychologist after she was examined by him, who diagnosed her with “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” due to her medical programs and stress.

However, the board took issue with the psychologist’s analysis, due to a conflict of interest, as he also began serving as Carr’s treating psychotherapist, and because he admitted that he did not review all available material relating to Carr’s care.

The report notes that while Carr appears sincerely regretful of her misconduct, and she is taking steps to address her health issues, she does not escape sanction “simply because her improved conduct does not appear to post an imminent threat to the public interest.”

The board stated that it is recommending a two-year suspension from judicial office without pay for Carr because of her compliance and commitment to a treatment program, and that without that, an indefinite suspension would be warranted.

On Monday, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Associated issued a statement in support of the board’s report and recommendation. It reads, in part: “We support the Board’s recommendation which calls for accountability for the misconduct and will await the final determination by the Supreme Court of Ohio which represents the final step in the disciplinary process.”

The Supreme Court of Ohio will make the final determination in Carr’s disciplinary process.

Carr has been a full-time judge with Cleveland Municipal Court since January 2012 and previously served as a prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County.

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