Plough update; SCOTUS in action
Five weeks ago I chronicled the travails of Portage County Municipal Judge John Plough, who'd been chastised twice within a fortnight by the 11th District court of appeals. The first was for not responding to that court's orders to provide the record for an appeal. The second was for holding Brian Jones, a public defender, in contempt for refusing to proceed to trial on a case he'd been assigned just the day before. I'd also mentioned that the Disciplinary Counsel was investigating Plough's conduct in a number of cases, based on the complaint by a fellow judge, no less.
Last Tuesday, the prosecutor's office filed an appeal in Jones' case. Two days later, the Disciplinary Counsel announced that it had concluded its investigation and filed six charges against Plough.
As they say, timing is everything.
Oddly enough, the six charges filed by the Disciplinary Counsel don't include Jones' case, although they do include the case of another public defender whom he tried to force to trial in similar circumstances a year earlier. Of the remaining charges, three deal with his failure to provide a record for appeal, and the other two with improper activities in the courtroom.
The State's brief seeking review of the reversal of Jones' contempt citation, which you can download here, argues that the 11th District's decision cripples the inherent contempt power of the trial court. The argument is premised on a 1976 Supreme Court decision, State ex rel. Edwards v. Murray, which held that where the county commissioners refused to appropriate money for a probate court, the court could order them to do so and enforce the order by contempt proceedings.
If you're wondering what this has to do with Jones, you're not alone. The very first line of Murray provides that "the administration of justice by the judicial branch of the government may not be impeded by the other branches of government in the exercise of its powers," (my emphasis), while Jones involves the same branch of government: an appellate court reining in a lower court. The attempt to pound the square peg of Jones into the round hole of Murray leads to headscratchers in the State's brief like this one:
It is well settled law in Ohio that where the basic function of a court is impeded by a failure or refusal of an attorney responsible to provide a necessary appropriation, the court must possess the inherent power to order such appropriation, and to enforce its order by contempt proceedings.
As one wag over at the OACDL listserv put it, maybe the Supreme Court will schedule oral argument in Jones the same day they hear the argument in Plough's disciplinary case.
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Down in DC, the Supreme Court handed down four decisions in the last couple of days, including Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which involved a suit by the Summum sect and their leader, Summum "Corky" Ra, to get a Utah city to place a monument with the "Seven Aphorisms of Summum" next to a marker containing the Ten Commandments. No, I am not making that up. For those of you interested in First Amendment issues, the case involves an intriguing intertwining of the Free Speech Clause ("government speech," no less) with the Establishment Clause. SCOTUSblog has a nice write-up on it, and there'll be a quiz next Wednesday.
Of interest to criminal practitioners is US v. Hayes. Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing a firearm. The Feds have been prosecuting that crime even where the predicate offense doesn't include "domestic" violence as an element. In other words, if you beat up your wife, but plead to simple assault, it's still a crime to subsequently be caught with a gun: the government can look beyond the elements of the predicate offense to the actual facts. The 4th Circuit had reversed Hayes' conviction, holding that the Federal law required the predicate offense to have as an element a domestic relationship between the offender and the victim. The Supremes reverse that, with only Roberts and Scalia dissenting.