Disciplinary hearing date set for local judge

Kevin Gareau

Complaint states John Plough violated code of conduct

The Ohio Supreme Court Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline has scheduled a disciplinary hearing for Portage County Municipal Court Judge John J. Plough. The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. from July 29 through 31 and again on Aug. 3 and 4 at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Plough’s term ends this year, and he will not be running for re-election.

The complaint against Plough lays out five instances in which he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Board began its investigation of Plough in February.

The first instance involved a case where the client was represented by Public Defender Robin G. Bostick. On May 2, 2007, Bostick filed a motion for continuance, saying she had just received additional information about the case from the prosecutor’s office and needed time to review it. She also presented case law to support her position to Plough and asked him to review it. Plough refused to review the case law and denied Bostick’s request for a continuance.

After Bostick said she could not proceed with the trial because she could not provide adequate counsel, Plough ordered her to proceed. Bostick then refused to cross-examine a witness, and Plough held her in contempt of court. He also “humiliated and belittled” Bostick, according to the complaint.

The second instance alleged Plough had failed to maintain a proper paper record, instead using a digital recording system, which he had sole control over.

In one case, Bostick filed a request for a copy of the recording of proceedings against her client, Michael P. Ricard, whose case was before the 11th District Court of Appeals. Ricard had been convicted of voyeurism and criminal trespassing. Bostick had to file five motions for extensions on the case because the recording was provided to her too late for a transcription to be made, and the audio on the recording was unclear and could not be transcribed.

Finally, the Court of Appeals reversed Ricard’s sentence because it required him to register as a sex offender, and the lack of a recording made it impossible to hear the trial court’s justification for ordering Ricard to register as a sex offender.

Bostick said Plough had failed to properly maintain his courtroom.

“Unfortunately, his courtroom, because I think of improper staffing, in my experience, was not run well,” she said.

In another case, the Court of Appeals remanded a case back to Plough because he did not produce a recording when ordered to. When he still did not produce a recording, the Court reversed the appellant’s conviction, saying Plough’s failure to produce the recording “has resulted in a violation of appellant’s constitutional right to appeal his conviction.”

In the third instance, Plough refused to allow the defendant to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for dismissal of a felony charge, an offer that had been made by assistant prosecutor, Kimberly Quinn. He also refused to dismiss the case for review and instead called County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci. When Vigluicci called back, Plough left the bench and held the conversation in private in his chambers. After 10 minutes, he allowed Quinn to come into his chambers, but the defendant’s attorney was not allowed to come in, which is a violation of Canon Three of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Canon Three states that “A judge shall not initiate, receive, permit or consider communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties or their representatives concerning a pending proceeding.”

In the fourth instance, Plough had his bailiff call a public defender and ask him to represent a defendant. When the defender said he would be unable to attend the trial on its scheduled date because he had another case the same day, the bailiff told him Plough would grant a continuance.

At the pre-trial, when the defender asked for a continuance, Plough refused to grant it, saying the defender should ask for a continuance in his other case. When the defender asked to leave, citing other commitments, Plough told him he “should run his practice better,” and threatened to hold him in contempt of court if he left. Finally, Plough granted the continuance and let the defender leave.

In the fifth instance, Plough presided over a case in which a man was convicted of OVI. During the course of the trial, the man’s attorney, Jack Bradley, filed a motion questioning the validity of the field sobriety tests. When Bradley questioned the state trooper who made the arrest, Plough interrupted him.

During the closing arguments, Plough again interrupted Bradley, accusing him of injecting his personal beliefs into the case. Bradley appealed his client’s conviction to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the conviction in part and overturned it in part, remanding back to the lower court.

In the court’s opinion, it said Plough’s handling of the case “exhibited a lack of circumspection, patience and respect for the proceedings as well as defense counsel.”

Ian Friedman, a public defender and president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, defended Brian Jones, whom Plough held in contempt after Jones would not proceed with a trial because he had only been assigned the case the day before and wanted more time to prepare.

The 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals ultimately overturned the contempt finding, but Friedman said that did not diminish the seriousness of the matter.

“We felt that the initial contempt finding was so egregious and so dangerous in its precedent that lawyers nationwide came to our defense,” Friedman said.

A representative from Student Legal Services declined to comment, saying their attorneys appear before Plough on a daily basis, and it would be in their best interest to withhold comment.

The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline could ultimately refer the case to the Ohio Supreme Court, which could decide to disbar Plough.

Contact public affairs reporter Kevin Gareau at [email protected].