Discuss the ethical issues, specifically: Why do you think the judge chose to be unethical?

Choose one of the three cases to discuss in detail. In your own words, provide an overview of the case. Discuss the ethical issues, specifically: Why do you think the judge chose to be unethical? What were the repercussions of their actions? How do you think this impacted the view of the court system?

Please see attached for cases

By Dale Van Atta From Reader’s Digest
Our Broken Gavel Award winners, and the damage they do.
Less Than Ethical
Imagine you’ve been the victim of a vicious crime. The perpetrator is arrested, and you
finally get a trial date. So you head off to court, willing to face your attacker to see
justice done. Now imagine your dismay when the judge, who you trusted to be honest
and fair, turns out to be less than competent. Or worse, less than ethical. How could you
ever have confidence in our court system again?
When judges betray our trust, they threaten one of the pillars of our democracy. And they
deserve to be exposed. Some of the worst offenders earn a dubious distinction: We select
them for our annual Broken Gavel Awards.
The conduct we reviewed potentially violates the ethical standards set by the American
Bar Association and state judicial codes of conduct. Should this year’s winners be kicked
off the bench? You be the judge.
Deborah P. O’Neill
Columbus, Ohio
Leslie Seals and daughter Laura sat patiently in the courtroom of Judge Deborah P.
O’Neill, hoping to see the criminal justice system in action. Laura’s ex-boyfriend, Andre
Cribb, had beaten the mother and daughter; clumps of Leslie’s hair had been torn out and
Cribb had smashed a toilet top over her head, cutting her neck with shards of broken
porcelain. Cribb was charged with multiple counts of attempted murder, felonious assault
and abduction. As the prosecutor rose to read the plea agreement to Judge O’Neill, Leslie
and Laura whispered with a friend about the proceeding. The judge yelled in an explosive
voice that there was no talking in the courtroom and ordered them out. The prosecutor
escorted the party to the witness room, returning to the courtroom with Leslie, who as a
victim was exercising her right under Ohio law to be present for the plea.
“I said, ‘Out of the courtroom!’ ” the judge angrily reiterated.
“Judge, this is the victim,” the prosecutor protested, but the judge refused to let Leslie
stay.
Once back in the conference room, Leslie completely broke down; Laura was equally
distraught. As victims of abuse from the defendant, they felt newly abused by the judge.
The prosecutor had never seen a crime victim treated this way by a judge.
Welcome to the courtroom of Judge Deborah O’Neill, who has an obsession with handling
cases rapidly. According to many who have seen her on the bench and testified in an
ethics hearing — including other judges, lawyers and crime victims — O’Neill is rude in
the courtroom, forces guilty pleas and lacks credibility.
When Jewish defendants protested that for religious reasons they could not appear in
court on the first day of Passover, O’Neill proceeded anyway and granted a judgment in
favor of the plaintiff. A newspaper highlighted the move under the headline “Debbie
Doesn’t Do Passover.” Subsequently, O’Neill suggested it was the defense attorney’s fault
for “fail[ing] to zealously defend his clients.” Her decision was reversed on appeal as an
abuse of discretion.
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In another case, an 18-year-old boy, homebound after a liver transplant, was charged
with a felony sexual offense: corruption of a 13-year-old girl. But the prosecutor, Angela
Bolognone, had doubts about the defendant’s culpability, so she asked for a pre-sentence
investigation (PSI). On the day of the hearing, O’Neill showed up more than two hours
late, appearing agitated and angry. She refused the PSI request and sentenced the
18-year-old to jail. Bolognone’s supervisor later testified that O’Neill admitted that the
defendant shouldn’t have spent a day behind bars, but she was compelled to jail him
because Bolognone wouldn’t waive the PSI request. According to the supervisor, O’Neill
was basically saying that a seriously ill defendant had been jailed because she wanted to
clear the case off her docket.
O’Neill became the subject of a multi-charge judicial misconduct complaint. In sworn
testimony, 76 litigants, judges, lawyers and others testified about her actions, including
her dishonesty and failure to exercise judicial discretion. Five of O’Neill’s fellow judges
testified that she tended to create her own version of events, and couldn’t be trusted to
tell the truth. One of them, Judge Michael H. Watson, who served as the Administrative
Judge over O’Neill for two years, testified, “She’s the most effective prevaricator I have
ever seen.” Disciplinary Counsel Jonathan Coughlan asked the panel to strip her of her
license to practice law. While O’Neill conceded a lack of diplomacy, she denied all
allegations of misconduct.
Last May, a panel appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court determined that most of the
accounts of misconduct against O’Neill were factual. But O’Neill suffered only a two-year
suspension of her license with one year stayed. By fall of 2005 she could be eligible to
run for another judicial post.
Douglas Combs, Jr.
Hazard, Kentucky
In the spring of 2003, Judge Douglas Combs, Jr., found himself under investigation by
Kentucky’s Judicial Conduct Commission. The state commission accused Combs of 13
counts of judicial misconduct, including failing to preserve the integrity and security of
the evidence room. At one point, his small courthouse was missing $1,000 worth of
OxyContin pills, as well as other evidence.
The state investigators alleged that the judge didn’t show up for scheduled sessions of
court for 157 days from January 1999 through August 2003, which meant he was
inexplicably absent an average of almost three days every month. When the judge did
show up, the state charged that he was “chronically and excessively late” and would also
“frequently” step off the bench “for excessive periods while litigants, jurors, witnesses,
lawyers, and others were required to wait for [his] return.” Combs acknowledged
absences and recesses, saying that there were “a number of reasons” for this.
Despite his frequent absences, Judge Combs maintained that he was so busy that, in
addition to his full-time court reporter and secretary, he needed to hire a series of
“substitute court reporters.” Though there were more than 100 circuit-court judges in
Kentucky, Combs hired nearly one-third of all substitute court reporters paid by the state
— including his own wife, who was paid $75 per day as a substitute court reporter even
though she had a full-time $64,000-a-year job as a clinical psychologist. The commission
charged that Combs’s temporary employees “did not perform” the duties he claimed and
were often paid for days when they were not needed.
The state also charged that Combs had handpicked at least one grand jury, ignoring the
state-mandated random selection process. Combs denied the allegation. Interestingly, it
was a confrontation with the grand jury that resulted in another charge against Combs.
After the foreman of a jury, local lawyer Hoover Haynes, criticized Combs for his
disappearing acts, the judge reportedly fined Haynes $100 for contempt, removed him as
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foreman and sent the other 11 jurors to the grand jury room for an hour after they had
completed their service before releasing them.
Combs insisted he acted appropriately and even “exercised discretion and reserve” in the
matter. However, the judicial commission was already fed up. By then, Combs had been


 

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