By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer
A lawyer representing Akron Municipal Judge Joy Malek Oldfield attacked the credibility of a Copley police officer, saying he “turned into a teenaged boy” when he found the judge with a female attorney in a parked car.
Attorney George Jonson said Tuesday the officer is “simply not credible.” He asked a three-member panel of the Ohio Supreme Court’s disciplinary board to dismiss ethics charges against Oldfield that arose from the incident.
Jonathan Coughlan, the disciplinary counsel who lodged the charges against the judge, requested a stayed six-month suspension of Oldfield’s law license based on four alleged judicial canon violations. If granted, the discipline would not affect Oldfield’s position on the court.
A decision from the disciplinary panel is not expected until next month.
In his closing argument, Jonson implored the panel to end the months of “hell and hurt” Oldfield has endured since allegations of misconduct arose more than 18 months ago.
“End this today,” he said. “Make it stop.”
Jonson took to task the observations, writings and testimony of Copley Patrolman Thomas Ballinger.
It was Ballinger who found Oldfield and assistant public defender Catherine Loya parked together at 2 a.m. Feb. 5, 2012, in a strip mall near the judge’s residence. He repeatedly has said Oldfield was in a state of undress and in the backseat with Loya when he walked up to their car.
Coughlan alleged in his complaint that Oldfield tried to use her position to stop Loya from being arrested on charges related to drunken driving.
Loya later was convicted and fined.
For two weeks following the incident, Loya continued to represent indigent defendants in Oldfield’s courtroom. It wasn’t until around Feb. 17 — when a supplemental police report surfaced — that Loya was transferred to a different judge.
Jonson argued to the panel there was no personal relationship between Oldfield and Loya, and thus no ethical violation. He said allegations that the two women were being intimate in the backseat is “not possible.”
Jonson cited the Scion xB’s tinted windows, its small interior compared to the full-figured judge and Ballinger’s initial notes and texts to fellow officers as “an overwhelming mountain of evidence” that Oldfield was not in the backseat.
He specifically cited a series of text messages, sent at the time of the incident between Copley officers, which appear to poke fun and hint at a potential lesbian encounter Ballinger had found. He said Ballinger became like a boy and made jokes. Eventually, the officer became locked into a story he couldn’t alter.
“Officer Ballinger is not a credible witness. Judge Oldfield is being polite when she refuses to call him a liar,” Jonson said. “He’s simply not credible.”
Coughlan defended the officer and reminded the panel that Ballinger had no motive to lie. He pointed to Ballinger’s decision in keeping Oldfield’s name out of the public police report as well as his initial reporting of the event.
Coughlan then characterized Oldfield as a “gifted actress” who tried to use her position to save Loya from being arrested. The judge then compounded her problems by not requesting Loya be moved to another court, he said.
He said Oldfield, who had been a judge for about a month, should never have told the Copley officers about her professional position.
“The reality is, we don’t want judges to ever use that card,” he said.
He further took Oldfield to task for opening her home to Loya for four days after the incident. The judge also drove Loya to and from the courthouse during that time frame. He said the arrangement created an appearance of bias that Oldfield should have recognized.
“And if you add in being in the backseat, then there’s no doubt,” he said.
Loya testified Tuesday, however, that neither she nor Oldfield were ever in the car’s backseat.
In other testimony on Oldfield’s behalf, Joe Kodis, the chief public defender for Summit County, and Gertrude Wilms, a candidate for Akron municipal judge who at that time was assigned as a prosecutor in Oldfield’s court, both said they did not see any conflict with Loya continuing to work with the judge.
Coughlan, nonetheless, implored the panel to find that Oldfield violated the canons through her relationship with Loya, her conduct during the arrest and her delay in seeing Loya transferred.
“If a judge is not held to a higher standard, the public won’t respect the judicial system,” Coughlan said in his closing remarks.