A former member of a state disciplinary board that hears complaints against judges and lawyers said how the board dismissed a complaint against a Clark County common pleas judge was rare but not unheard of.
Judge Douglas Rastatter was cleared of wrongdoing earlier this month after a two-day hearing when his attorneys asked for two of the six counts to be dismissed. The panel instead dismissed the entire case, which included allegations of failing to uphold the integrity of the judiciary.
Michael E. Murman, a private practice attorney with Murman & Associates in Lakewood, was a member of the Board of Grievances and Discipline at the Ohio Supreme Court from 2001 to 2003 and has since argued cases before the panel.
Even if there is enough in the complaint to constitute a violation, disciplinary panels can exercise discretion for judges who they feel are not likely to put themselves in similar situations again, Murman said.
“Our job is to protect the public from lawyer and judge misconduct. If it’s not necessary … what would be the point of sending this to the Supreme Court? It’s not about punishing lawyers and judges. Sanctions are a way to protect the public and the legal system,” Murman said.
Murman said Rastatter’s testimony and demeanor could have suggested to the panel that he had learned from mistakes.
He also said the friction with local defense attorneys Richard Mayhall and John R. Butz, who initiated the 13-page complaint, may have also played a role in the dismissal.
Disciplinary action against judges is rare in Ohio. For example, only four judges have been disbarred in more than 50 years.
Since 2007, less than 20 judicial misconduct cases have been filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, compared to more than 500 cases involving attorneys.
During that time, 10 judges have faced sanctions ranging from a public reprimand to disbarment. And each year, it’s estimated that only a handful of cases that have been brought before a state disciplinary panel involving lawyers and judges get dismissed.
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