COLUMBUS, Ohio (WEWS) — Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion removing Judge Pinkey S. Carr from her Cleveland Municipal Court bench where she has served for more than a decade due to more than 100 incidents of misconduct going back several years.
“The way she scolded me, yelled at me, I was often mocked, laughed at,” Minnyawn Burkhalter, a Cleveland woman, said.
Burkhalter is one of the dozens of Clevelanders to accuse Judge Pinkey Carr of misconduct during her hearings. Burkhalter says the judge ignored her evidence in a bankruptcy case.
“I felt almost less than human, honestly and I felt hopeless about it,” she added.
But she has a spark of hope – and that’s because the Ohio Supreme Court’s Tuesday mornings decision held immediate consequences. The justices indefinitely suspended Carr’s law license.
In a 5-2 ruling, the justices said Carr’s “unprecedented” behavior of more than 100 counts of misconduct, including sending someone to jail for rolling their eyes, demonstrated her “abuse” of power. The justices also disregarded the former judge’s reasoning behind her actions.
Her defense for her misbehavior? Menopause and sleep apnea caused a generalized anxiety disorder.
“Well, we’re disappointed in that,” Carr’s attorney Rich Koblentz told WEWS after the OSC decision. “She was not being appropriately treated for those conditions.”
Koblentz has never tried to excuse the judge’s behavior, rather explaining why things went wrong. But he also said he was set up to fail. He took on the case after it was abandoned by another team just two weeks before one of the hearings.
“I would have liked to have had sufficient time to have done the development we wanted relative to the evidence and everything else,” he said.
According to the court’s opinion, Carr has been indefinitely suspended from practicing law in Ohio and suspended from judicial office without pay while she is suspended. In order to vacate the suspension and be reinstated, the court said Carr will be required to submit a report from a qualified healthcare professional stating that she is “able to return to the competent, ethical and professional practice of law.”
An indefinite suspension isn’t as severe as it sounds. Carr is able to reapply for her law license in two years if she proves to the supreme court she has dealt with her issues. Koblentz said he assumes she will be reapplying.
“I’m glad that she is no longer going to be abusing her discretion in court,” Burkhalter added.
As for Burkhalter, she took her case to an appellate court and won, dismissing Carr’s penalties toward her.
In December 2021, the Board of Professional Conduct filed a report detailing a slew of misconduct allegations that it said occurred between 2017 and 2020.
The 58-page report detailed the multiple instances of Carr’s misconduct and put everything into five categories:
- Issuance Capiases and False Statements
- Ex Parte Communications, Improper Plea Bargaining, Arbitrary Dispositions
- Improper use of Capiases and Bond to Compel Payment of Fines and Court Costs
- Public Confidence, Lack of Decorum and Dignity Consistent with Judicial Office
- Abuse of Contempt Power and Failure to Recuse
To summarize just a few off the issues of misconduct listed, the board said Carr allegedly did the following:
- During the start of the pandemic when the courthouse activity was suspended, she didn’t reschedule her cases and issued warrants for defendants who failed to appear. She rewarded defendants who did appear by waiving fines.
- Lied to two media outlets, claiming she had not issued warrants for people who did not come to court.
- Routinely conducting hearings without the prosecutor present “to avoid compliance with procedural safeguards without interference from the city’s legal counsel. “
- Recommended pleas to unrepresented defendants with no prosecutor present, accepted pleas without explanation or discussion, routinely dismissed cases after unilaterally entering no contest pleas on behalf of defendants, and waived fines and costs without inquiry as to defendants’ ability to pay.
- Ignored the court’s established procedure to set up contracts to pay fines and costs at the time of sentencing. Set her own “Ability to Pay Hearings” without notifying the defendant or clerk’s office, then would issue a capias ordering the arrest of the defendant and set a bond.
- Wore inappropriate clothing to her courtroom, including T-shirts, shorts, tank tops and sneakers.
- Made frequent references to “Paradise Valley,” a Starz television series about a Mississippi strip club, when speaking with her staff and defendants, “all this while lawyers and their clients waited to have their matters resolved and the public watched.”
- Routinely spoke in an “undignified manner,” made jokes about accepting bribes and kickbacks from defendants.
A disciplinary complaint was filed against Carr in September of 2020, and at the urging of her counsel, she consulted a psychologist in May of 2021, according to the report the board filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
At a disciplinary hearing, Carr told a panel that the effects of sleep apnea and menopause led to her “intemperate behavior on the bench.”
The board stated in its report that she had been diagnosed with menopause and sleep apnea several years before she was accused of misconduct and she had actually been put on medication that helped her symptoms improve.
“After weighing Carr’s ‘breathtaking number of infractions,’ the aggravating and mitigating factors, and the sanctions we have imposed on magistrates and judges who have engaged in similar—although fewer—acts of misconduct, the board recommended that we suspend Carr from the practice of law for two years with no stay and immediately suspend her from judicial office without pay for the duration of her disciplinary suspension,” the board said in its report.
The board sent its report over to the court recommending Carr be suspended for two years but the Ohio Supreme Court issued an indefinite suspension as written in Tuesday’s opinion on the matter.
“Carr’s unprecedented misconduct involved more than 100 stipulated incidents that occurred over a period of approximately two years and encompassed repeated acts of dishonesty; the blatant and systematic disregard of due process, the law, court orders, and local rules; the disrespectful treatment of court staff and litigants; and the abuse of capias warrants and the court’s contempt power. That misconduct warrants an indefinite suspension from the practice of law.”
Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association President Adrian D. Thompson issued the following statement Tuesday on behalf of the bar association:
“The CMBA proudly and consistently supports local judges who serve the citizens of Northeast Ohio with honor and distinction. We have every confidence in their honesty, integrity and fairness, and we urge the community to share in that confidence.
Given the egregious nature and number of incidents admitted to by Judge Carr in the course of her disciplinary proceedings, the CMBA previously expressed concern regarding her practices. Today, we support the Supreme Court’s decision to hold Judge Carr accountable for her actions because the public deserves to be served by judges and lawyers who conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct. A competent judiciary characterized by integrity is central to the rule of law.
Fortunately, the vast majority of members of the legal profession – judges and lawyers – act professionally and ethically. We, as lawyers who practice every day before these judges, continue to have every confidence in their honesty, integrity and fairness, and we urge the community to share in that confidence.”
This story was originally published Oct. 18 by WEWS in Cleveland, an E.W. Scripps Company.