An internal investigation supports an officer’s report that he found Akron Municipal Judge Joy Malek Oldfield and a public defender in a state of undress in the back seat of a car that smelled of alcohol.
Police Chief Michael Mier’s report was released Monday, about two weeks after Oldfield’s attorney said that Patrolman Thomas Ballinger’s report was fabricated, embellished and possibly politically motivated.
Mier’s investigation shows neither Ballinger nor a second officer “fabricated their respective reports and that there was clearly some activity taking place between the two females.”
The report found that Ballinger was not influenced by politics and that the officer’s report of “activity in the back seat of the vehicle and clothing being rearranged” was documented “from the very beginning of the event.”
To further substantiate his findings, Mier released transcripts of sometimes crude text messages sent between his officers around the time of the incident.
After the report was released, Mier asked Oldfield’s attorney, John Hill, to apologize for publicly questioning the officer’s honesty, as he did when the Beacon Journal first reported the incident last month.
“I’m not happy with his comments that he made because I felt he made those comments without making any effort to adequately investigate the situation first,” Mier said. “They were made without any sort of proof whatsoever. It’s like they were knee-jerk reaction comments made to protect the judge.”
Catherine Loya, an assistant public defender, was arrested on drunken driving-related charges after Ballinger found her and Oldfield parked outside a strip mall about 1:45 a.m. Feb. 5. The car was running and its headlights were on.
In a supplement to his report dated the morning of the event, Ballinger noted that as he approached the vehicle he “observed a female’s head raise up from the back seat and look out the back window.” He then saw “two female subjects placing their clothing items on and then exit the back seat and move to the front seats.’’
Ballinger said he noticed a strong smell of alcohol coming from inside the car. In his report, Oldfield, 36, identified herself as a judge and said it was she who had been drinking.
As other officers were responding, Ballinger texted “LMAO,” a common text abbreviation for “laughing my [expletive] off.”
“I just didn’t want you to fly down here,” he added. “2 females. … Not nice what I saw.”
Other officers then joined in the messaging. One wrote: “ohhhhhh eww” and “im sure those folks were just ‘talking.’ ”
“geeze, that’s disgusting,” another officer messaged. “I don’t even want to know … I thought somethin was up, [Ballinger] sounded odd lol.’’
“Yup, he usually doesn’t mess around on the radio. I figured it would be weirdness.”
A second officer, Patrolman Darrel Garner, arrived minutes later. His report stated that Ballinger said the women were “involved in a sexual encounter.”
Garner also said Oldfield persisted in talking. He said that the judge smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on her feet and swaying.
“[Oldfield] kept interrupting by saying to me ‘Do you know who I am? and ‘It was me who was drinking,’ ” Garner wrote in his report.
As Garner and the judge were walking to his cruiser while Loya was being arrested, she asked “if there was anything she could do for Loya,’’ Garner wrote in his report.
“I told her we do not “un-arrest” people in Copley and that it was too late for any help,” the officer wrote.
Oldfield then asked for a ride to the Copley Police Department, where Loya, 30, was being taken for booking. The judge’s home was about a mile away, but she told Garner “she did not want to wake up her husband and kids.” Oldfield was not charged.
After Loya was booked, Garner gave Oldfield and Loya a ride to the judge’s home.
“During the ride, Oldfield’s biggest concern to this officer was [whether] her name going to be mentioned in the police report,” Garner wrote.
Standing by comments
Oldfield has not commented on the incident. Her attorney, Hill, has served as her spokesman.
Hill openly questioned Ballinger’s report last month when Loya’s arrest became public. He was particularly focused on the supplement to Ballinger’s report where Oldfield’s name and his observations of the back seat are noted.
“I now have this package [Mier’s report] but have not yet had time to review its contents,” Hill said in a statement Monday evening. “Regardless, with a case pending, I don’t think the judge can comment on this any further, beyond what I have previously said — which I stand behind.”
Mier’s investigation — which included reviewing radio traffic, computer notations and documents — shows the reports were made “contemporaneously with the events that transpired.”
In addition, Mier interviewed Ballinger and Garner. Both men said “unequivocally” that “there was absolutely no influence from inside or outside the department relating to this incident.”
There is no mention in the report that either Loya or Oldfield were questioned.
Loya, who was assigned to Oldfield’s courtroom, continued to defend indigent clients with cases pending before the judge for about two weeks after the incident. She was later removed after the Beacon Journal reported on the assignment.
In addition, the newspaper reported that the judge at times provided Loya a ride to and from work in the days after the arrest. Loya’s driving license was suspended because she refused to perform a sobriety breath test. Her case is pending in Barberton Municipal Court.
The Akron Bar Association has requested police documents to determine if Oldfield or Loya should be subjected to any discipline in light of the incident. The group’s grievance committee could recommend further investigation by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Oldfield has been a judge since January. She unseated Republican incumbent Tom McCarty in the November election.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.