Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Judge Suspended Indefinitely for ‘Unprecedented Misconduct’

Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Carr was suspended indefinitely and removed from office by the Supreme Court of Ohio today.

The Supreme Court found that Judge Carr’s “unprecedented misconduct” over a two-year period included “blatant and systematic disregard of due process, the law, court orders, and local rules.” The judge also was repeatedly dishonest, treated court staff and litigants disrespectfully, abused her power to issue arrest warrants and find individuals in contempt of court.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justices Patrick F. Fischer and Jennifer Brunner, First District Court of Appeals Judge Beth Myers, and Tenth District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Sadler joined the Court’s per curiam opinion. Judge Myers sat in place of Justice Michael P. Donnelly, and Judge Sadler sat for Justice Melody Stewart. Justices Donnelly and Stewart recused themselves from the case.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy agreed with the findings of misconduct but dissented from the sanction. In a separate opinion, she concluded that a two-year suspension would remove Judge Carr from the judiciary, protecting the public from future misconduct. Justice R. Patrick DeWine joined the dissent.

Judge Ignores Court Order to Reschedule Cases During Pandemic
In March 2020, the Cleveland Municipal Court presiding judge ordered the rescheduling of civil and criminal cases to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Judge Carr, however, continued to preside over her regular docket the next week. For criminal defendants who did not appear for their hearings , Judge Carr ordered them to be arrested and set bonds ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. For defendants who were “brave enough,” according to Judge Carr, to appear in court despite the potential for exposure to the virus, she waived fines and court costs.

The public defender assigned to the judge’s courtroom asked about the rescheduling order. Judge Carr replied that not everyone watches the news and that the public defender should not tell people to not show up, because she would be in court.

When local news media interviewed the judge, she lied about issuing arrest warrants. She also lied to her presiding judge about the actions.

The Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office asked the Eighth District Court of Appeals for writs to compel Judge Carr to comply with the presiding judge’s order and requested an affidavit of disqualification from Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. The Eighth District granted the writs and stayed Judge Carr’s orders and arrest warrants that were issued after the municipal court order to reschedule cases. The chief justice disqualified Judge Carr from presiding over criminal and traffic cases involving non-jailed defendants for the duration of presiding judge’s order.

The Board of Professional Conduct found that Judge Carr “very publicly flouted” her disregard of the court order, she punished members of the public who followed the order, and she “thereby created the very danger that the order sought to prevent — the spread of the coronavirus in open court.”

Judge Admits to Many Other Ethics Violations
During the disciplinary process, Judge Carr agreed to 583 statements of fact and misconduct stretching across 126 pages. In its report to the Supreme Court, the board stated that it catalogued only a limited sample of the judge’s admitted misconduct.

Among her other ethics violations, Judge Carr acknowledged that she often held hearings without a prosecutor present to avoid complying with the safeguards in state law – such as the requirements that a judge inform the accused of the nature of the charge, the identity of the complainant, the right to counsel, and the effect of different pleas.

The judge also falsified court journal entries by claiming that the prosecutor had amended charges or that she had held hearings to determine a defendant’s ability to pay fines or court costs. She used warrants and incarceration to force the payment of fines and costs by tying the person’s bond to the amount of the fine and costs – “essentially creat[ing] a modern-day debtors’ prison,” the Court’s opinion stated. At least five people spent time in jail as a result.

In one case, Judge Carr abused her power to hold a person in contempt. The person served 15 days in jail.

Judge Carr also violated rules governing the appropriate dress, order, and decorum for courtrooms. Her bench was littered with dolls, cups, novelty items, and junk. She presided over her courtroom wearing tank tops, T-shirts – some with images or slogans, spandex shorts, and sneakers. She discussed with her staff and defendants a television show called “P-Valley” about a fictional Mississippi strip club. She also joked about accepting kickbacks in lieu of fines and having defendants give her and court staff items such as food, beverages, carpeting, or storage space in exchange for lenient sentences. The Supreme Court’s opinion concluded that these actions undermined public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.

Supreme Court Increases Penalty for Judge
The board recommended a two-year suspension. The Court majority, however, determined that Judge Carr’s misconduct, including her disregard of the rule of law and the harm she caused to litigants in her courtroom and to the judiciary, warranted an indefinite suspension.

“We hold judges to the highest standards of professional behavior because they are invested with the public trust,” the opinion stated. 

Consistent with the Rules for Government of the Judiciary, the Court also ordered that Judge Carr be immediately suspended from judicial office without pay for the duration of her disciplinary suspension.

Reinstatement Possible Only if Conditions Met
Judge Carr argued that diagnosed mental health disorders were a contributing cause to her misconduct. The board concluded that she did not establish that her current mental disorders caused her past misconduct. However, the board gave weight to her willingness to undergo evaluations of her mental and physical health, her adherence to her doctor’s treatment plan, and her decision to enter a contract with the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (OLAP).  

Judge Carr’s reinstatement to the practice of law is conditioned on her compliance with her OLAP agreement and a report from a qualified healthcare professional that she can return to practicing law competently, ethically, and professionally. She also was ordered to pay the cost of the disciplinary proceedings.

Two-Year Suspension Sufficient to Protect the Public, Separate Opinion Maintained
Justice Kennedy explained that the primary purpose of judicial discipline is to protect the public, guarantee the evenhanded administration of justice, and maintain and enhance public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. In her view, a two-year suspension from the practice of law for Judge Carr was sufficient to advance this purpose, because under Ohio law, a suspension of more than six months would cause Judge Carr’s removal from office. 

“That consequence of Carr’s misconduct, by itself, would protect the public from future misconduct, because Carr cannot abuse judicial power if she no longer holds judicial office,” the opinion stated.

2021-1518. Disciplinary Counsel v. Carr, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3633.

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