As The Stark County Political Report always does with subjects of SCPR blogs, today focuses on Judge Eddie Elum of Massillon having his say in response to an ethics complaint filed against him on November 25, 2015 (the second in the space of about three years) contending that he violated Ohio's disciplinary rules in allegedly seeking to intervene with a landlady (Beatty) on behalf of a family friend (denied by Elum in his answer discussed below; namely, Pettis) who was on the cusp of being evicted from his rental when Elum got involved.
First up, here is Elum's legal Answer in full as filed by his Cincinnati-based attorneys, to wit:
For the convenience of readers of the SCPR, here is a copy of the original complaint:
Next up is a layout of a disciplinary process flow chart (as added to by The Report) that is made available to visitors to Ohio's Board of Professional Conduct, to wit:
ELUM LEGAL COUNSEL
It appears that Elum is in good legal hands in his hire of Ohio State Bar Association 2014 award winner (2014 Eugene R. Weir Award for Ethics and Professionalism) George D. Johnson (LINK) and Brian Spiess.
According to a Cincinnati Bar Association blurb on Jonson (LINK), his hourly fee is $250 per.
So Elum's alleged ethics indiscretion could get quite expensive.
One has to wonder whether or not his friends and associates in the Stark County bar will be offended that His Honor (Massillon bred and raised) found it necessary to go to the southern tip of Ohio to find competent legal council, no?
SCPR ANALYSIS OF THE ELUM ANSWER
While Elum admits that he was disciplined on December18, 2012 (also represented by Jonson in that proceeding) by the Ohio Supreme Court, it appears to The Report he denies the specifics of the basis for which he was disciplined, to wit:
Respondent's prior disciplinary case arose out of two sets of circumstances in which respondent acted outside and beyond his authority, intimidating a criminal defendant with profane and abusive language in an impromptu hearing without the defendant's attorney present, and interfering with an internal police investigation and issuing baseless orders beyond his authority to the police chief and to the prosecutor to provide him with prurient photographs and texts that were the subject of the police investigation.
It will be interesting to see how this denies plays in the disciplinary process.
The mere fact that Elum was subject to discipline back in 2012 does not mean that a second finding will result automatically in his being suspended or disbarred. For it appears that there have been no complaints filed that Disciplinary Counsel found actionable within the six months of Elum's December 18, 2012 suspension.
But that the current complaint recites the prior discipline indicates to the SCPR that Elum will face sterner discipline should he be found to have violated disciplinary rules in the new complaint.
OTHER DENIALS (RECANT) BY ELUM IN HIS ANSWER
- Denies that Pettis is a family friend per he complaint allegation,
- Recants prior deposition testimony that Elum's son had played football with Pettis at Massillon Washington High School,
- Denies that he ... "directed her (Beatty) to accept a resolution of the dispute that
was favorable to Mr. Pettis."
- Denies that he attempted to intimidate Ms. Beatty,
- Denies that he "at no time terminated the call because of his awareness that it was improper,"
- Denies that "[during] the course of the conversation, [he] represented the interests of Mr. Pettis
as if he were acting as Mr. Pettis' attorney and advocating in a negotiation, albeit on an
unequal footing, with Ms. Beatty,"
- Denies that he "initially instructed Ms. Beatty to accept the late rent payment from Mr. Pettis."
- Denies that "Ms. Beatty responded that she did not believe an amicable resolution was possible, that Mr. Pettis was chronically late with his rent payments, was difficult to deal with and sometimes verbally abusive, and that she did not wish to retain Mr. Pettis as a tenant,"
- Denies that "Respondent then adopted a tone of command and ordered Ms. Beatty to be quiet and listen. When she attempted to respond, the judge interrupted her to clarify that he did not want to hear anything from her, he simply wanted her to understand and do what he was instructing her to do. Respondent informed Ms. Beatty that if she had anything to say, she could have her attorney telephone him later."
- Denies that "Beatty [ever] told [Elum] that she had an attorney,"
- Denies that he "failed to ask Ms. Beatty if she was in fact represented by counsel, or for the name of her attorney. [Elum] also failed to offer to conference in Ms. Beatty's counsel so that counsel could participate in the conversation and so she could have the benefit of his legal advice during the 'negotiation,'"
- Denies that he "instructed Ms. Beatty to permit Mr. Pettis to stay until Tuesday, May 12 ...,"
- Denies that he [d]uring the telephone conversation, [he] openly, and within the hearing of Ms. Beatty, consulted with Mr. Pettis regarding his demands" except admits consulting with Pettis,
- Denies that "[f]ollowing one such consultation, [he] instructed Ms. Beatty to return to Mr. Pettis $900.00, the equivalent of two months' rent, as a refund of his security deposit,"
- Denies that he "threatened Ms. Beatty that she had made a grave error and would be liable to Mr. Pettis for treble damages for prematurely changing the locks without a court order.
- Denies that he "told Ms. Beatty that if she did not agree to Mr. Pettis' terms, he would end up owning the entire property and she would never get him out."
- Denies that "[a]s a final instruction, he forbade Ms. Beatty to charge Mr. Pettis any rent for May 1 through May 12, the unpaid days during which Mr. Pettis retained possession and control of the property,"
- Denies that he requested that Beatty return his call but admits that "on May 22, 2015, respondent telephoned Ms. Beatty a third time about the Pettis matter and left a message on her answering service requesting that she ... have her attorney call him,"
- Although Elum answers that he denies "the remaining allegations in Relator's complaint," to the SCPR, Elum in essence admits that "[a]t his October 9, 2015 deposition, [Elum] admitted that his calls and conversation were improper under Ohio ethics law. The actual answer, to wit: "Respondent states that his deposition speaks for itself. Respondent admits that his conduct violated the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct. Further answering, Respondent denies the remaining allegations in paragraph 30 of Relator's complaint.
- Denies that the "purpose of the call was to influence the conduct of Ms. Beatty with respect to her legal rights and interests,"
- Denies that "... at his deposition, [he] conceded that any comment regarding possible treble damages or other consequences for changing the locks constituted a legal opinion that was intended to influence Ms. Beatty' s conduct,"
- Denies that "[he] implied that this matter [i.e. the Pettis/Beatty dispute] was part of a pilot mediation program and denies this matter was not appropriate for mediation as he [Elum] has referred matters to mediation before the institution of litigation.
- Denies ... "in responding to relator's letters of inquiry, he initially implied that the conversation was part of a new pilot mediation program he had established at the court.
- Denies that "[o]ver the course of the investigation, and in response to specific questions from relator, respondent has changed his position to an acknowledgement, both in writing and at his deposition, that the conversation was not a mediation and was not a part of any mediation program at the court,
- Denies that his "conduct as alleged in Count I violates the Code of Judicial Conduct:
- Rule 1.2 [ a judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety];
- Rule 2.4(B) [a judge shall not permit family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment J;
- Rule 2.4( C) [ a judge shall not convey or permit others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge];
- Rule 2.6(B) [a judge shall not act in a manner that coerces any party into settlement];
- Rule 3.l(D) a judge shall not engage in conduct that would appear to a reasonable person to becoercive];
- Rule 3.10 [a judge shall not practice law]; and
- the Rules of Professional Conduct: 8.4( d) [ a lawyer shall not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice].
“I did what God would want you to do — is to help people. I had a person with money and I didn’t want him to be homeless. I didn’t pull rank. Anybody would do the same thing to try to help somebody.”But The Report thinks he alluded to doing God's will in saying in his answer's conclusion "that his [Elum's] calls were not made with selfish motive.
The SCPR thinks that Elum has abundantly demonstrated that he does not have the temperament to continue as a judge.
The Report believes that the two formal complaints that has caught eye of Disciplinary Counsel likely is "the tip of the iceberg."
As seen in the chart above and the accentuated extracted inset below, unless Disciplinary Counsel (or a Certified Grievance Committee) finds "substantial credible evidence of misconduct," gets dismissed.
So we will never know how many if any other ethic complaints have been filed against Elum.
And, of course, there is the local mainstream media (The Repository, The Massillon Independent) whom The Report thinks undoubtedly have been privy to information on Elum's conduct but have opted to bury it.
The SCPR has published an "over-the-top" e-mail sent by Elum to yours truly, but nary a word in condemnation on the part of The Rep and The Independent.
There are those who think that Disciplinary Counsel and the Ohio Supreme Court treat judges with kid gloves and it takes extraordinary judicial misconduct for either to recommend/act to in effect remove misbehaving judges from the bench by suspending them "unstayed" from the practice of law or disbarring them.
The phrase one hears is: "judges (i.e. the Ohio Supreme Court) protecting judges."
See the Stokes case (LINK, Cleveland judge Angela Stokes has her license to practice law reinstated on her agreement to resign as judge and not to seek re-election/election as a judge).
Elum in his answer to the complaint admits one violation of the Rules of Judicial Conduct. It is a second offense.
The Report's hunch is that Elum will escape the current complaint process with his right to continue as a judge in tact.
In the SCPR's view, if such happens, then it appears that judges in Ohio are pretty much immune from meaningful enforcement of the Rules of Judicial Conduct.
Attorneys on the other hand regularly get suspended/disbarred for unethical conduct.
Isn't that interesting?