Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ohio Supreme Court conducts final oral arguments of 2016 term

Today the Court heard oral arguments in four cases. It also marked the last day of oral arguments for Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger and Justice Paul E. Pfeiffer, who are prohibited from running for re-election. (The Ohio Constitution precludes the election or appointment of any judge who would be 70 years old or older on the date he or she is sworn in.)

Justice Lanzinger has served on the Court since 2005, after being elected in November 2004 and re-elected by a wide margin in 2010. Justice Langzinger has periodically blogged at Justice Judy since 2010.

Justice Pfeiffer, if I'm not mistaken, enjoys the distinction of having served longer on the Court than all but four earlier associate justices, having first been elected in 1992.

Randy Ludlow of the Columbus Dispatch has this look-back on their service on the Court.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ohio Supreme Court case announcements, 8/29/16

Today the court announced the release of official versions of fifteen opinions, and one procedural ruling.

The procedural ruling is in State v. Ford, a death penalty appeal out of Summit County. The defendant had filed an unopposed motion to partially unseal the record. At issue are several dozen documents ordered sealed by the trial court, many of which (according to Ford's counsel) relate to competency issues. Ford's attorneys--who are based in Youngstown, Ohio, and Glorietta, New Mexico--did not seek full public access to the records. Rather, they sought permission for counsel of record or the Ohio Public Defender to access and make copies of the record. The Court denied the motion, but ordered that counsel of record or the Ohio Public Defender may view the sealed documents at the Clerk's office.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ohio Supreme Court case announcements, 8/26/16

The Court today announced procedural orders in four cases, including three disciplinary matters.

In one of the disciplinary matters, Columbus Bar Association v. Eric Lee Lafayette, the Court sua sponte took the somewhat unusual step of rejecting the agreed recommended sanction of a one-year suspension from the practice of law to be stayed on conditions, and remanded the matter to the Board of Professional Conduct for further proceedings, "including consideration of a more severe sanction." Lafayette has been accused of mishandling an immigration matter that resulted in the voluntary departure of his client, of forging a client's signature on bankruptcy documents, and failing to advise a client that he did not have malpractice insurance.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

State v. Hand - juvenile delinquency cannot be basis for mandatory sentence

In State v. Hand, the Court held R.C. 2901.08(A) to be unconstitutional as violative of the due process clauses of the Ohio and US Constitutions. That statute provided that an adjudication as a delinquent child constitutes a prior conviction for purposes of mandatory sentence calculation. The Court held the statute unconstitutional because juvenile determinations are made by the court without the benefit of a jury, thus running afoul of Apprendi v. New Jersey. The Court left open the possibility that juvenile delinquency adjudications could nevertheless be factors considered by the sentencing court in its discretion. Justices Terrence O'Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French dissented.

Ohio Supreme Court case announcements, 8/25/16

Today the Court announced that it has issued two merits decisions and three procedural rulings.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pitcher v. Waldman - no requirement to hold sanctions hearing

In Pitcher v. Waldman, the First District affirmed the trial court's decision denying sanctions. The defendant argued that the complaint was based on claims that the plaintiffs knew had previously been released pursuant to the settlement of earlier litigation, and that the sole purpose of the complaint was to harass Waldman.  The trial court denied the motion. On appeal, the First District rejected the argument that a trial court must hold a hearing on a motion for sanctions; per R.C. 2323.51(B)(2) requires a hearing only if the court imposes sanctions.

State v. Jackson - death penalty; no right to be resentenced by new judge after original judge was publicly reprimanded for violating Code of Judicial Conduct in connection with first sentencing

In State v. Jackson , the Court affirmed the death penalty imposed upon Nathaniel Jackson for the 2001 murder of Robert Fingerhut. Jackson and his co-defendant, Donna Brooks (the victim's former wife), were initially sentenced to death in 2002. Roberts's death sentence was vacated by the Court in 2006, on the ground that the sentencing judge engaged in improper ex parte communications with an assistant prosecutor regarding the sentencing opinion, an act for which the Court later publicly reprimanded the judge. Jackson used the decision in Roberts's case and the public reprimand--and the judge's admission that the same type of ex parte communications had occurred in Jackson's case--to obtain post-conviction relief in the form of a new sentencing hearing. The new sentencing hearing was conducted by the same judge, who in 2012 again sentenced Jackson to death in an opinion that Jackson characterized as substantially identical to the 2002 "tainted" sentencing opinion. The Court rejected these arguments, holding in part that because Jackson had attempted to have the judge removed through the Ohio Constitution's judicial disqualification mechanism, and that disqualification was denied, relitigation of whether the judge was biased against Jackson was barred by res judicata.  The Court further held that there was no showing that the taint of the 2002 sentencing opinion carried over to the 2012 sentencing opinion.  Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented on the grounds that the lower court did not properly consider Jackson's allocution upon resentencing; she wrote that the 2012 sentencing opinion was clearly prepared in advance of the resentencing hearing because it was filed immediately after the hearing, thus violating Jackson's right to allocution.

Midland Funding v. Hottenroth - dismissed as improvidently granted

In Midland Funding v. Hottenroth, the Court dismissed the appeal as having been improvidently granted in light of the Court's intervening decision in Taylor v. First Resolution Investment Corp. Justice Terrence O'Donnell dissented, arguing that the case presented an opportunity for the Court to resolve the important but unanswered question of when a claim for breach of a credit card contract accrues. Justice Lanzinger joined Justice O'Donnell's dissent.

State v. Montgomery - death penalty; sua sponte competency evaluation not required merely because capital defendant is on prescription medication

In State v. Montgomery, the Court affirmed the death penalty imposed by a three-judge panel upon Caron Montgomery, who had waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty to murder, domestic violence, and aggravated murder with death specifications, in connection with the 2010 murders of Montgomery's girlfriend Tia Hendricks, their two-year-old son Tyron Hendricks, and Tia Hendricks's nine-year-old daughter Tahlia Hendricks. Of note, Montgomery contended on appeal that his jury waiver and guilty plea were not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently made because he was taking two prescription medications, Thorazine and Risperdal, at the time of the waiver and plea. He further contended that the trial court knew that he was under the influence of the medications, and should have ordered a competency evaluation. The Court disagreed, holding that the panel interacted with Montgomery multiple times over an 18-month period, adequately conducted the Crim.R. 11 plea and waiver colloquys (including adequate inquiry into the prescription medications), and properly determined that there was no reason to suspect that Montgomery was incompetent. The Court also stated that "we have never held that a court must order a competency hearing before accepting a guilty plea from a capital defendant who is taking a prescription medication for mental illness, and we decline to do so now." Justice William M. O'Neill dissented, arguing that the Court's 2004 decision in State v. Mink required the lower court to conduct a competency evaluation before accepting a guilty plea from a capital defendant on prescription medications.

Ohio Supreme Court case announcements, 8/24/16

Today the Court announced that it has issued merits opinions in two death penalty cases, issued two procedural orders, and dismissed one case as improvidently granted.