On Thursday, in a hearing in which he pleaded guilty to campaign-spending violations and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Franklin County Appeals Court Judge Tim Horton told the sentencing judge that he had made “mistakes and misjudgments.”
He told visiting Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia Cosgrove that these resulted in part from a drinking problem that he says is under control and that he has been “working very hard on making amends to my family and friends.”
He also needs to make amends to the judicial system and to the voters and should do that by resigning from the appeals court. If he does not, then the Ohio Supreme Court’s disciplinary counsel should remove him.
The three misdemeanor counts to which he pleaded guilty are part of a pattern of bad judgment and misbehavior that make him unfit to be a judge.
This is a man who, while on a lower bench in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, intimidated and traumatized rape victims. One was 13, another 19.
This is a man who was accused of sexually harassing a young bailiff, who then reported that the judge had ordered her to conduct political campaign work on county time and using county equipment. (Taxpayers covered $22,000 to settle her claims, with a judicial self-insurance program paying out an additional $23,000.) Another woman, a law-clerk intern, later reported similar conduct by the judge.
And this is a man who, as reported to state investigators, ordered his staff attorney to compile lists of his rulings that were favorable to the city of Columbus, labor unions and those involved with racetrack casinos — with an eye to getting campaign dollars and endorsements. This is terrible, even if Horton never used such lists. It gives the appearance that justice is for sale in Ohio’s capital.
On Thursday, however, he merely confessed to three counts of misusing campaign funds to pamper himself and friends with fine dining and cigars.
Such a misappropriation of funds shows disdain for rules and a sense of entitlement. But the narrowly tailored plea deal, which reduces the charges to a misdemeanor, also smells of political privilege.
A 538-page report by the state auditor’s office, obtained by The Dispatch through a public-records request, had recommended pressing felony theft-in-office charges against Horton. The plea deal was negotiated down to misdemeanors after the case was referred to the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine.
But findings cited by the state auditor raise questions about why Horton wasn’t charged with felonies. While the auditor and the attorney general’s office both looked at illegalities related to Horton’s campaign activities, they focused on different wrongdoing. A spokesman for DeWine, a Republican, said their office “devoted significant additional resources to investigate this matter after referral.”
Horton’s attorney dismissed the investigation by Auditor Dave Yost’s office as “a partisan hack job.” Yost is a Republican; Horton is a Democrat. But it was the Ohio Supreme Court that requested the auditor’s investigation.
It is possible for two lawyers — Yost is a former prosecutor — to look at the same facts and come to different conclusions. As the joke goes, hire two lawyers and you get three opinions. But no one is laughing over Horton’s conduct.
The auditor’s findings call into question rulings Horton made on the bench, and would continue to cloud any judgments he makes if he remains there.
He should resign or be removed.