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Ohio Common Pleas Judge Reprimanded for Drunk Driving

April 15, 2020, 3:24 PM

An Ohio judge arrested in 2019 for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol was publicly reprimanded by the state’s highest court.

A “judge’s operation of a vehicle while intoxicated imperils public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary,” the Ohio Supreme Court said in its Tuesday opinion, which adopted its ethics board’s findings. Judge Rebecca L. Doherty’s statements about being a judge during the her arrest was “an abuse of the prestige of the office,” it added.

On a snowy Winter night in 2019, the Portage County common pleas judge drove her car off the highway and into a ditch, the court recounted. The responding officer found vomit in her car and noticed a “strong smell of alcohol,” it said.

Doherty admitted to the officer that she’d been drinking, adding that she was a local judge. She was very unsteady on her feet, almost falling several times, and even exclaimed, “I am so intoxicated,” it said.

At the station, she refused to take a breathalyzer test and demanded that the officers call her friend, a local sheriff’s deputy, the court said. Doherty was arrested and charged with a first-degree-misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

Doherty pleaded guilty and apologized to the court and the public for her misconduct, the high court said. She also made a statement to the news media, again apologizing for what she did.

The judge was sentenced to 180 days in jail with 177 days suspended but received a three-day jail-time credit in exchange for her having completed a driver-intervention program, it said. Her driver’s license was suspended for one year, and she was ordered her to pay a fine.

At her ethics hearing, the board determined Doherty violated judicial conduct rules requiring judges to act “at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary” and prohibiting judges from abusing the prestige of their office to advance personal or economic interests.

In considering a sanction, the Ohio Supreme Court found there were no aggravating factors. Doherty has no prior disciplinary record, cooperated in the disciplinary process, had other penalties and sanctions imposed for her conduct, and “submitted 13 letters and the testimony of two witnesses attesting to her good character and reputation,” it said.

She was assessed by an expert, who found that she didn’t have a substance-abuse disorder, emotional disorder, or psychological disorder, the court said.

The Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program concluded that there was no need for Doherty to enter into a contract with the program, it noted, and imposed the reprimand.

The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Doherty, 2020 BL 137230, Ohio, No. 2019-1736, 4/14/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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