Court: Ohio judge immune from attorney’s lawsuit


CINCINNATI (AP) — Although a rural Ohio county’s judges
actions were "petty, unethical and unworthy of his office," he is still
immune from being sued by an attorney who got fired after the judge
kicked him off all the cases in his courtroom, an appeals court panel
found Tuesday.
The decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
stems from a 2012 lawsuit filed by attorney Robert Bright against Judge
David Dean Evans in Gallia County in southeastern Ohio’s Appalachian
country, just across the West Virginia line.
Bright’s lawsuit
accused Evans, the county, its board of commissioners and its public
defender’s office of violating his constitutional rights to freedom of
speech and due process.
The public defender’s office fired Bright
in September 2011 after Evans removed him from all the 60-some cases
pending in his courtroom because of a "conflict he created with the
court." The judge cited a lengthy motion in which Bright criticized some
of Evans’ practices, such as setting strict deadlines for entering plea
The Ohio Supreme Court found "serious ethical
questions" with Evans’ treatment of Bright and said that instead of
removing the attorney from the cases, Evans should have recused himself.
The court gave Evans a one-year suspension, stayed on condition he
commit no misconduct.
In Tuesday’s decision, a three-judge panel
of the 6th Circuit wrote that Evans overreacted, and caused great
hardship to Bright by wrongfully removing him from the cases.
Evans’s actions were petty, unethical, and unworthy of his office,"
according to the ruling, written by Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore.
"Judge Evans has brought dishonor on himself and his position."
Even so, Moore wrote that the panel must protect judicial independence and immunity from liability.
our legal system, there is often someone who loses his money, his
liberty, or his life. This cannot be helped," she wrote. "But if that
defeated party could turn around and file suit against the judge or
judges in his case, then the whole system would unravel as the threat of
suit crept into the judges’ minds."
Bright’s attorney, Cincinnati
civil rights lawyer Al Gerhardstein, said he’s considering whether to
request the full 6th Circuit reconsider his client’s case, focusing not
on Judge Evans’ immunity but on Bright’s right to freedom of speech.
its root, what happened to Mr. Bright is retaliation for his advocacy
(of his client)," Gerhardstein said. "That out to be protected by the
First Amendment."
Evans’ Cincinnati attorney, Linda Woeber,
declined to comment over the phone but said in an email that "the court
made absolutely the right decision in preserving judicial immunity."
for the judges’ comments about Evans’ actions, Woeber referred to the
Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling sanctioning Evans, saying that the state’s
highest court also noted the judge’s "absence of any prior disciplinary
record; absence of a dishonest or selfish motive; full and free
disclosure to the disciplinary board and a cooperative attitude toward
the proceedings; and his good character and reputation."

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