Suspension recommended for judge who called defendant 'Quick Draw' and police officer 'Mr. Know It All'

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A longtime Ohio judge should be suspended for misconduct that included coercing two defendants to plead no contest and jailing a man for 30 days for commenting that the judge was making himself look stupid, according to an ethics board.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct recommended a one-year suspension for Judge Daniel Gaul in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, who has served on the bench since 1991.

The alleged misconduct happened in eight cases over five years, the board said in its Dec. 9 recommendation.

Gaul is accused of calling an acquitted defendant “Quick Draw” and telling him he got away with murder, telling the same defendant he would have “busted a cap” in him, referring to Black defendants as “brother,” commenting on the bad influence of violent video games and families with absent fathers, calling a police officer “Mr. Know It All” and his girlfriend “mistress,” offering to help a federal prisoner whom he deemed “an extremely decent man,” and sentencing a defendant to 30 days in jail for saying the judge was making himself look stupid.

The board made factual findings regarding eight cases.

Gaul threatens a ‘trial tax’ to induce no-contest plea

In one case, the board said, Gaul “blatantly threatened” a defendant with a “trial tax” for exercising his right to trial by telling him that his sentences for attempted murder, assault and other crimes would run consecutively, encompassing up to 42 years, if he went to trial. But if the defendant pleaded no contest, Gaul said, he would be sentenced to 14 years in prison. The defendant pleaded no contest, but an appeals court reversed the plea because it was coerced.

During the defendant’s sentencing, Gaul made “unnecessary and gratuitous” references to the race of the defendant and the victim, the board recommendation said. Gaul said he was commenting on Black-on-Black crime, but there was no evidence that race was an issue or relevant to the proceedings, according to the board.

Gaul allegedly said: “There are decent people who try to live over in Outhwaite. I know some of them. … And people like you make it nearly impossible. Here, this gentleman that was shot had no record whatsoever, he had a job, he just purchased a new car. He was a young person that was securing his portion of the American dream, OK, and because he dated a woman in Outhwaite, his Black life didn’t matter to you, did it? And your Black life didn’t matter to you, did it? … And your child is going to grow up, and I’m going to speculate now, just like you did, without a dad. Did you have a father?”

The defendant said he did not.

“No, of course not,” Gaul continued. “But none of us are permitted to talk about the 70% of kids born in the city of Cleveland that don’t have a mother and father, born out of wedlock.”

Gaul extensively questions defendant about irrelevant matters

In a second case, an appeals court ruled that Gaul abandoned his duty as an impartial fact finder when he interrogated a defendant during a bench trial on matters that were “wholly immaterial to the instant case.” Gaul had asked the defendant, who was charged in a fight during a night out, about juvenile charges, fights with family members, DUI offenses and a misdemeanor offense for sexual imposition in Pennsylvania, the board recommendation said.

Gaul also sought to show that the defendant had been drinking in the night in question in which he paid $50 to ride to a bar on a party bus.

“Why would you pay $50 a person if you’re not going to be partying your keister off?” Gaul asked.

After the appeals court vacated the defendant’s conviction, he pleaded guilty to an assault misdemeanor on remand and was sentenced to time served by a different judge.

Gaul calls acquitted defendant ‘Quick Draw’ and a ‘brother,’ comments on his name, expresses belief that he committed murder

In a third case, Gaul told a defendant that he was sentencing for receiving stolen property and possessing weapons illegally that he remembered him from a prior case. Gaul said the defendant “beat the rap” in the prior case in which he shot a man who came up to his car to rob him while he was selling drugs.

Gaul called the defendant “Quick Draw” and said the defendant wouldn’t have quick drawn him.

“I would have busted a cap in you,” Gaul said.

Gaul noted that the defendant has “got an Italian first name and an Irish last name, and he’s a brother.”

In the new case, jurors had acquitted the defendant on a murder charge.

“The whole story is you got away with murder,” Gaul told the defendant. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re a murderer.”

Gaul went on to say he thought that the cases involving the defendant were influenced by violent video games.

“These young people, who have now set behind the console and for years have shot people in videos, have become so desensitized that it’s not that much of a joke to do the real thing because, in your case, what you were found not guilty of, which I would have found you guilty of, is opening up on a group of people with an AK-47, shooting down the freaking street. Shooting down the freaking street. Shoot this house, shoot that house, shoot this guy, shoot that girl. We saw the ballistics. We saw that. That car was completely shot up. …

“I know I’m getting a little far afield, but the point is, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a remorseless predator, who deserves every day I can possibly give you.”

During his ethics hearing, Gaul was asked whether calling an African American defendant a “brother” could have “an inappropriate racial tone to it.” Gaul said it may have, and it was an unfortunate use of the word. He also acknowledged becoming too emotional.

Gaul calls police officer ‘Mr. Know It All,’ repeatedly refers to girlfriend as ‘mistress’

In a fourth case, Gaul referred to a police officer as “Mr. Know It All” and criticized him for bringing his girlfriend to his estranged wife’s home to pick up his children. The estranged wife was seeking a restraining order against the girlfriend, whom Gaul referred to as a mistress on five occasions.

Gaul said he wouldn’t issue a protection order because “there’s just a hair short of enough evidence,” but the estranged wife should file another petition if the girlfriend did so much as text the estranged wife. He also said if he signs a civil stalking and protection order against the police officer, the officer will lose his job because he won’t be able to carry a firearm.

Gaul writes convicted defendant offering help

In a fifth case, Gaul wrote to a federal prisoner who was convicted in federal court for mortgage fraud but acquitted in his court on similar charges.

Gaul told the prisoner that he regarded him as “an extremely decent man,” and a newly elected Cuyahoga County prosecutor may be willing to take a fresh look at prosecution misconduct in his case. Gaul told the prisoner that he should let Gaul know if he can assist in any way. The defendant attached Gaul’s letter to several federal court filings.

Gaul denies bond without evidence hearing

In a sixth case, an appeals court found that Gaul erred by twice denying bond to a defendant without hearing sworn testimony to determine any threat to safety and the likelihood that he committed the charged crime.

Gaul chides defendant for disrespectful yawn, orders him jailed for 30 days for comment

In a seventh case, Gaul ordered a $25,000 bond for a defendant who thanked him and then explained that he was already on “a hold” in connection with another case.

“Just give me the same judge, same lawyer, so I can move on with my day,” the defendant said.

Gaul called the defendant “brother.” He told the defendant that the court was not “the drive-thru window at Burger King,” and “you don’t get it your way.”

Later in the proceeding, Gaul said the defendant’s loud yawn was disrespectful. Gaul raised the defendant’s bond to $100,000. The defendant insisted that the bond didn’t make a difference because he was already on a hold.

“You ain’t hurt me,” the defendant said. “You just made yourself look stupid to how you are as a judge.”

Gaul found the defendant in contempt of court and ordered him jailed for 30 days. An appeals court reversed the contempt finding.

Gaul pressures defendant to take no-contest plea

In an eighth case, Gaul told a defendant that he should resolve his case that day with a two-year sentence, or he would face a longer sentence because his indictment on a new crime constituted a probation violation. The defendant pleaded no contest. The plea was vacated on appeal.

Gaul’s conduct “harmed multiple victims who were vulnerable because he presided over their cases and had the power to decide the outcome,” the board said. He treated people in his courtroom in a “discourteous, rude, undignifed manner.”

During his disciplinary hearing, Gaul submitted evidence of his high caseload. Several character witnesses also testified on his behalf. He displayed a cooperative attitude during the disciplinary process.

An aggravating factor is that Gaul had one previous stayed six-month suspension for similar conduct, the board said.

‘A fair opportunity to be heard’

One of Gaul’s lawyers, Monica A. Sansalone, gave this statement to the ABA Journal: “We are disappointed with the recommendation of the Board of Professional Conduct and will be filing objections with the Supreme Court of Ohio. We trust that the supreme court will give Judge Gaul a fair opportunity to be heard, including as to whether he should be subject to an actual suspension. Judge Gaul has faithfully served the people of Cuyahoga County longer than any other sitting judge, and the hearing panel correctly found that he provided ‘extensive evidence of his good character and reputation.’”

Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog, Law360 and Cleveland.com.

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