Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Lucas County Judge Publicly Reprimanded for Attempting to Scuttle Drunken-Driving Charge

The Ohio Supreme Court today publicly reprimanded a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge who tried to convince Ohio State Highway Patrol officers not to charge him with drunken driving by telling the troopers the conviction “will kill me.”

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court sanctioned Judge Alfonso Gonzalez for violating two rules of judicial conduct when he was pulled over by a trooper in July 2019. Judge Gonzalez, who was appointed to the bench in March 2019, failed to comply with the law and abused the prestige of his judicial office to advance his personal interest, the Court ruled.

Judge Detained about Mile from Parents’ Home
Around 1 a.m., a state patrol sergeant stopped Judge Gonzalez in Findlay for traffic infractions he observed. The officer explained the reason for the stop and asked the judge to sit in the front seat of his police cruiser. Moments later Judge Gonzalez said to the officer, “I hate to make this political, and I don’t want to go there, but I just got appointed judge in Lucas County by Governor DeWine in March.”

The judge explained he had been celebrating his first jury trial with his brother-in-law. He explained he was drinking nearby and driving to his parents’ house in Findlay, which was about a mile from where he was stopped. He told the officer that he was embarrassed. The trooper told him, “I understand, but I have a job to do.”

Judge Gonzalez told the officer he understood completely, but while still seated in the cruiser, he said: “I’m not asking for favors, I’m just saying it will kill me, really will. I just got appointed.”

Another trooper responded to the scene and noted a strong odor of alcohol coming from the judge.  He also  observed that the judge’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and that he was slurring his words. The judge told the second officer: “I should have been in Lucas County. I’m a judge there. I’m not trying to play that up, but.”

After conducting a field sobriety check, police arrested Judge Gonzalez for operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI). He then told the troopers he was going to lose his job and asked if he could have his parents pick him up there by the roadside. The troopers told him they were taking him to their post, and the judge said, “I’m not asking for favors, I’m just saying, ‘Is there anything I can do?’”

At the post, Judge Gonzalez refused to provide a blood sample, and his driver’s license was placed under an administrative suspension.

Judge Self-Reports Conduct
Three days after the arrest, Judge Gonzalez self-reported the incident to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which filed charges of violating the judicial conduct rules with the Board of Professional Conduct in November 2019.

Judge Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of OVI in Findlay Municipal Court. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, of which 23 were suspended. He was given the opportunity to complete a driver’s-intervention program and a participate in a victim impact panel program in lieu of serving the remaining  seven days of his jail sentence. In addition, his driver’s license was suspended for one year, with limited driving privileges granted, and he was ordered to pay a $450 fine plus court costs.

At his disciplinary hearing, the judge admitted he tried to persuade the troopers not to cite him for OVI.

The board agreed with the parties' proposal that Judge Gonzalez receive a public reprimand, noting that he had no prior disciplinary history, and freely disclosed his violations.

The Court adopted the recommendation, and stated it has publicly reprimanded sitting jurists for OVI, and “for abusing the prestige of their office by making repeated nonresponsive statements about being a judge after they have been stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol.” Judge Gonzalez was also ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2020-0230. Disciplinary Counsel v. Gonzalez, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-3259.

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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