Akron Municipal Judge Joy Malek Oldfield is facing disciplinary sanctions for last year’s alleged backseat tryst with a public defender.
In a complaint filed this month by the Ohio Disciplinary Counsel, Oldfield is accused of violating three judicial codes of conduct stemming from her personal and courtroom relationship with Catherine Loya, an assistant public defender.
Oldfield is accused of violating canons that cover promoting public confidence, abusing her judicial office to advance personal interests and failing to disqualify herself when her impartiality may be questioned.
A fourth violation claims she violated the state’s rules of professional conduct for attorneys that bar conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Oldfield did not return a message seeking comment Friday. Her attorney, George Jonson of Cincinnati, said the judge intends to contest the allegations when the complaint is heard later this year by a three-judge panel of the state Supreme Court’s board of grievances and discipline.
He declined to comment directly on the case, but he said the judge will file a written response prior to the hearing that will be “illustrative in terms of where we are in the factual allegations.”
Depending on what, if any, disciplinary actions are taken, the process could take more than a year to conclude. Potential sanctions range from public reprimands to the suspension or loss of Oldfield’s law license. In the meantime, the judge remains on the bench.
The eight-page complaint filed by disciplinary counsel Jonathan Coughlan recounts what a series of Beacon Journal stories first revealed in early 2012. Coughlan’s review following an investigation concludes Oldfield is guilty of misconduct.
The case began in the early morning hours of Feb. 5, 2012, when a Copley Township police officer reported he found Oldfield and Loya in the backseat of Loya’s car, which was parked outside a closed strip mall.
Both women were partially clothed and smelled of alcohol, Officer Tom Ballinger wrote in his report.
Oldfield, who is married with two children, appeared embarrassed by the officer’s presence and told him that it was she who had been drinking. Oldfield also asked, “Would it help if I tell you I’m a judge?”
Oldfield was first elected to the bench in January 2012.
Loya, 32, was eventually arrested on drunken driving-related charges. After she was booked, police drove the women to Oldfield’s home. According to the complaint, Loya spent that night at Oldfield’s home and stayed there several nights afterward until her driving privileges were restored.
At the same time, Loya continued to represent indigent defendants in Oldfield’s courtroom. The arrangement ended Feb. 17 after the Beacon Journal questioned the ethical propriety to Loya’s supervisor, chief Public Defender Joseph Kodish.
During that time, Loya handled more than 100 cases in Oldfield’s courtroom, the complaint notes.
Loya took her case to trial and was eventually convicted of drunken driving-related charges. She received fines totaling $839 and a suspended 180-day jail sentence. No disciplinary action was taken against Loya’s law license.
Ric Simmons, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law who has commented on the case in the past, had a mixed reaction after reading the complaint.
“Certainly the facts as alleged create at least the appearance of impropriety and the judge should have recused herself from cases involving this attorney after this incident,” he said.
He said the alleged violation of abusing her office for personal gain, apparently based on Oldfield’s comments to the arresting officer about being a judge, are “not so clear.”
“There were some comments by the judge at the time of the arrest, but I don’t know if those ‘advanced the personal or economic interests of the judge or others,’ ” he said.