Commentary: Columbus Judge Properly Receives a Disciplinary Slap.

On March 11, 2015, in Ohio State Bar Assn. v. Salerno, 2015-Ohio-791, the Supreme Court of Ohio publicly reprimanded Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Amy Salerno for telling jurors in open court in a criminal case they had reached the wrong verdict when they found the defendant not guilty of assault and disorderly conduct.  According to the complaint filed against Judge Salerno by the Ohio State Bar Association, the judge then told the jurors about other charges still pending against the defendant, which she also should not have done. Additionally, Judge Salerno then had to recuse herself from hearing another case against this defendant which had been assigned to her. According to the complaint, the judge’s remarks received widespread media coverage, both in print and online, including in the ABA Journal, the Huffington Post, Above the Law, Slate, and on various law professors’ blogs (now including this one.)

Having once been an appellate judge, I know that citizens take their responsibility as jurors very seriously, and many cases are very difficult and very stressful.  To jurors, judges are the face of our system. Jurors and the community hold judges in high esteem and expect judges to act in ways that merit that esteem and that do not abuse their positions, as unfortunately happened in this case.

As now permitted by Gov.Bar R. V (16), the parties- the Ohio State Bar Association and Judge Salerno-entered into a consent-to-discipline agreement, in which the parties involved can agree to facts, the violation, and the sanction.  That agreement then goes to the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, now called the Board of Professional Conduct, and thence to the Supreme Court of Ohio, which has the final say.

In the consent-to-discipline agreement, to her credit, Judge Salerno, who otherwise enjoys a good reputation, admitted that her conduct violated Jud. Cond. R. 1.2, which requires a judge to respect and comply with the law and to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and Jud. Cond.R. 2.8(C), which expressly prohibits a judge from commending or criticizing jurors for their verdict other than in a court order or opinion in a proceeding.

The parties also stipulated that Judge Salerno’s conduct upset several jurors and “subjected the entire judicial system to widespread criticism and ridicule after her remarks received nationwide media coverage. ” Finally, Judge Salerno agreed to the recommended sanction of a public reprimand, although the final word on that belongs to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In this case the Board of Professional Conduct recommended that the Supreme Court of Ohio adopt the consent-to-discipline agreement, which the Court did, unanimously, culminating in this public reprimand.

 

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