Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Portage County Judge Reprimanded for Drunken Driving Conviction

The “lip-loosening effects of alcohol” did not excuse Portage County Common Pleas Court Judge Rebecca L. Doherty from trying to use the prestige of her office to avoid a drunken driving arrest, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

A Supreme Court majority publicly reprimanded Judge Doherty for her behavior when she was cited for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (“OVI”) in February 2019. The Court ruled she failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary, and that she abused the prestige of her office to advance her personal interests.   

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined the per curiam opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor did not participate in the case.

Judge Wrecks Car in Snowstorm
While driving in snowy weather 14 months ago, Judge Doherty drove her vehicle off the highway and into a ditch around 9 p.m.  The responding police officer observed vomit inside Doherty’s car and a strong odor of alcohol coming from Judge Doherty who said she had been drinking.  When asked to identify herself, she responded with her name and stated several times that she was a Portage County common pleas judge.

The officer reported that Judge Doherty was unsteady and almost fell multiple times while walking up the embankment to the side of the road.  And after being placed in the back of the cruiser, she stated, “I am so intoxicated.” 

At the police station, Judge Doherty partially performed a field sobriety test and refused to take a Breathalyzer test.  She asked the officers to take her home, and when they did not comply she repeatedly demanded that they call her friend — a local sheriff’s deputy.  She was arrested and charged with a first-degree misdemeanor count of OVI.   

Judge Apologizes for Behavior
Judge Doherty pleaded guilty  and apologized to the trial court and the public for her misconduct.  She also made a statement to the news media acknowledging her poor judgment and apologizing for its negative reflection on the judiciary.  The court sentenced Judge Doherty to 180 days in jail with 177 days suspended, suspended her driver’s license for one year, and ordered her to pay a $1,075 fine with $700  suspended on the conditions that she have no other drug- or alcohol-related convictions for two years and complete a driver-intervention program.

Judge Doherty paid her fine and completed the driver-intervention program.

Board of Professional Conduct Finds Rule Violations
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint in May 2019 against Judge Dougherty with the Board of Professional Conduct. The parties stipulated that Judge Doherty’s conduct violated the rules requiring a judge to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and prohibiting a judge from abusing the prestige of judicial office.   

The board agreed, and noted that Judge Doherty did not have a prior disciplinary record, cooperated in the disciplinary process, and received other penalties from her conviction. She also submitted 13 letters and the testimony of two witnesses  attesting to her good character and reputation. 

Citing two cases in which then-sitting jurists were publicly reprimanded for driving while under the influence of alcohol, the board recommended the Court publicly reprimand Judge Doherty.

The opinion noted at that during the arrest, the judge, rather than directly answering questions, made repeated nonresponsive statements about being a judge. Making those statements during an arrest is an abuse of the prestige of the office — even when they are “borne of the lip-loosening effects of alcohol,” the board noted.

2019-1736. Disciplinary Counsel v. Doherty, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-1422.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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