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Court News Ohio

Former Municipal Court Judge Suspended

Image of former Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Harland H. Hale

Harland H. Hale.

Image of former Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Harland H. Hale

Harland H. Hale.

Harland H. Hale, who served on the Franklin County Municipal Court, has been suspended from practicing law for six months.

In a 5-2 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that Hale improperly dismissed his personal attorney’s speeding ticket, tried to cover up that misconduct, and falsely testified in a disciplinary hearing that he had not represented clients in the months after he resigned from the bench.

This is the second time the court has considered the disciplinary complaint against Hale. In November 2013, the court returned the case to the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline to conduct further proceedings and to consider a harsher sanction than the six months the board had originally recommended. After reconsideration, though, the board again proposed a six-month suspension.

Hale was a judge in the municipal court’s environmental division and also served in rotation as a duty judge, assisting with criminal arraignments, traffic violations, and other court matters.

In November 2011, Patrick Quinn, Hale’s attorney in a civil lawsuit, received a speeding ticket. Quinn did not show up for his arraignment in December, and an arrest warrant was issued. Quinn contacted Hale, the duty judge at that time, asking to be arraigned without going to court.

When Hale reviewed the case file, he completed a form stating that the prosecutor was dismissing the charge against Quinn and the court was assessing no fines or costs. However, Hale had not discussed the matter with the prosecutor.

Following a media inquiry around April 2012, the city prosecutor began investigating how the case had been handled. Hale then contacted Quinn and the prosecutor, asking them to sign off on vacating the dismissal. When the prosecutor refused, Hale vacated the improper dismissal on his own and recused himself from the case.

The state’s Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against Hale the next spring, and Hale resigned from the bench on May 24, 2013. At a disciplinary hearing in March 2014, Hale stated that after he stepped down he had not acted as an attorney on legal matters until late November or early December 2013. A few months later, however, he notified the board’s panel reviewing his case that he had actually represented five clients during that time.

Of the seven alleged violations of judicial and attorney conduct rules, the disciplinary board voted to dismiss one that prohibits actions that adversely reflect on a lawyer’s fitness to practice law. After reviewing similar disciplinary cases in the state, the board again concluded that a six-month suspension was appropriate. It reasoned that Hale’s dishonesty related to only one incident and noted that he voluntarily gave up his job.

The Disciplinary Counsel objected to the board’s dismissal of one alleged rule violation and to the proposed sanction. Hale had argued he had served a self-imposed suspension after he resigned from the bench by not working on legal matters, even though he later admitted that was not true. Counsel contended that Hale’s false testimony was an attempt to keep the court from imposing a harsher punishment.

In an opinion written by Justice William M. O’Neill, the court found that Hale violated all seven conduct rules, including the lawyer fitness provision. Justice O’Neill stressed that Hale’s actions were serious ethical violations and that his false testimony was unacceptable, and then imposed a six-month suspension.

He noted several factors to support a suspension of this length: “(1) Hale practiced law for approximately 30 years without incident, (2) his misconduct was limited to a single case to which he had a personal connection, (3) justice was ultimately served in that matter, (4) … no litigants suffered permanent harm as a result of Hale’s misconduct, and (5) Hale acknowledged that his actions were not appropriate and voluntarily resigned from the bench within one month of [the Disciplinary Counsel’s] complaint being certified to the board.”

Joining Justice O’Neill’s opinion were Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented and would have imposed a one-year suspension.

2013-1622. Disciplinary Counsel v. Hale, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-5053.

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