A judicial canon holds that judges “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Another states that “judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.” Judge Joy Malek Oldfield of the Akron Municipal Court violated both these canons in the recent events surrounding a police officer finding the judge and a public defender in the back of a car, smelling of alcohol and partially clothed, in a Copley Township parking lot early one morning.
No question, the canons feature gray areas. Attorneys and judges socialize. Attorneys contribute to the campaigns of judges. Oldfield crossed a clear line, falling into circumstances that invite doubts about her impartiality and her good sense. The public defender practiced in her courtroom, and remained there for two weeks after the incident, even riding to work with the judge.
All of it carried the appearance of something more than the usual socializing. Yet it got worse. So much so that Oldfield would do well to step down from the bench, yes, resign.
The judge compounded her poor judgment. Her attorney, speaking for her, insisted that the police report was untrue, essentially accusing the officer of lying, or committing a crime. The Copley department doubled back, reviewing the work of the officer and a second involved. On Monday, it found, credibly, that the report wasn’t fabricated, or exaggerated, or politically motivated.
Finally, there is another standard to apply, one set by the judge. She won the judgeship last fall by, among other things, arguing her opponent’s actions eroded his suitability for the bench. Sure, her accusations were cheap shots. The promise? She would operate at a higher level. What would candidate Oldfield now say about Judge Oldfield? The fair guess is, it would be harsh.