Judge’s suspension will end his career as elected judge; he coerced pleas, demeaned litigants, court says

Judge’s suspension will end his career as elected judge; he coerced pleas, demeaned litigants, court says

Ethics

Judge’s suspension will end his career as elected judge; he coerced pleas, demeaned litigants, court says

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An Ohio judge has been suspended from law practice and removed from the bench for a range of misconduct. Image from Shutterstock.

An Ohio judge has been suspended from law practice and removed from the bench for a range of misconduct, including coercing two no-contest pleas and imposing a 30-day contempt sentence on a defendant who said the judge was making himself “look stupid.”

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended Judge Daniel Gaul of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for one year and removed him from the bench without pay for the same period.

Court News Ohio, the Legal Profession Blog, Law360 and Cleveland.com covered the suspension, which was imposed in a Dec. 29 opinion.

Gaul’s term would have lasted through 2024. He is 70 years old and is banned from running for reelection under a state-mandated age limit for judicial candidates, Cleveland.com reports. Gaul has been a judge since 1991.

“The suspension marks an unceremonious end to Gaul’s 30-year career as an elected judge,” Cleveland.com reports.

Ohio Judge Daniel GaulThe Ohio Supreme Court has suspended Judge Daniel Gaul of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for one year and removed him from the bench without pay for the same period. Photo from the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

The Ohio Supreme Court said Gaul had committed 29 out of 31 charged ethical violations that stemmed from conduct in eight cases during a five-year period that began in 2014.

In one of the coerced pleas, Gaul told defendant Carleton Heard, who was indicted in 2015 for attempted murder, assault and other crimes, that his sentences would run consecutively if he was convicted after a trial, for a total of 42 years in prison. But if the defendant pleaded no contest, Gaul said, he would be sentenced to 14 years in prison, with credit for time served.

Heard took the plea deal. An appeals court reversed the plea, and Heard was tried by a jury before a different judge. He was acquitted of all charges.

“Gaul’s conduct amounted to coercing Heard into taking a plea deal wholly created by Gaul,” the Ohio Supreme Court said. “Gaul did not merely encourage settlement of the case—he initiated the settlement, dictated its terms and repeatedly told Heard what would happen (imposition of a lengthier prison sentence) if he were to go to trial and be convicted of the charged offenses.”

The state supreme court also said during the sentencing, Gaul “harped on the fact that Heard had grown up without a father” and “alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement.” The comments showed that Gaul “was not performing his duties fairly and impartially,” the state supreme court said.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct had details on Gaul’s comments to Heard in its suspension recommendation.

Gaul allegedly said: “There are decent people who try to live over in Outhwaite. I know some of them. … And people like you make it nearly impossible. Here, this gentleman that was shot had no record whatsoever, he had a job, he just purchased a new car. He was a young person that was securing his portion of the American dream, OK, and because he dated a woman in Outhwaite, his Black life didn’t matter to you, did it? And your Black life didn’t matter to you, did it? … And your child is going to grow up, and I’m going to speculate now, just like you did, without a dad. Did you have a father?”

The defendant said he did not.

“No, of course not,” Gaul continued. “But none of us are permitted to talk about the 70% of kids born in the city of Cleveland that don’t have a mother and father, born out of wedlock.”

In another matter, Gaul “made demeaning and inappropriate comments” to a criminal defendant, Demagio Callahan, who was charged in 2016 with 18 offenses related to a shooting. During sentencing, the Ohio Supreme Court said, Gaul referred to a previous case involving the same defendant and implied that he “beat the rap” on a murder charge. Gaul called the defendant a “brother,” a “murderer” and a “remorseless predator.”

The Ohio Supreme Court said Gaul’s comments about the prior case indicated a lack of impartiality that should have compelled Gaul to disqualify himself.

In another case, a defendant’s “apathetic quips” appeared to increasingly irritate Gaul, the Ohio Supreme Court said. The defendant, Arthur Smiley, was being held in jail for other cases, and the bond set by Gaul didn’t matter to him.

Gaul referred to Smiley as “brother” and said, “This isn’t the drive-thru window at Burger King, my friend. You don’t get it your way.” Gaul then raised the defendant’s bond to $100,000.

Smiley responded that Gaul was making himself “look stupid” as a judge because the raised bond didn’t affect him, given his incarceration in the other cases.

Gaul found the defendant in contempt of court and sentenced him to 30 days in jail. The contempt charge was reversed on appeal. On remand, Smiley apologized at Gaul’s suggestion. The contempt charge was dismissed.

“Judges—especially trial-court judges—deal with people of varying tempers on a near-daily basis, and a judge’s encountering a difficult person does not excuse the judge’s duty to exercise fair and impartial judgment and to treat that person with patience, courtesy and dignity,” the Ohio Supreme Court said.

Gaul’s lawyer, Monica Sansalone, had argued that Gaul was accused of misconduct in only eight cases out of the more than 30,000 that he presided over during his time on the bench, according to Cleveland.com. She also said prosecutors, defense lawyers, court reporters and staff members had told the court of Gaul’s good character in unsolicited letters.

Gaul did not immediately respond to a voicemail left with a number for his judicial chambers.

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