On Thursday, March 14, 2024, FOX19 reported that Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler appeared before the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct in Columbus regarding a disciplinary complaint filed against him.

The complaint stems from Facebook posts Judge Winkler admitted to making in 2022 about an open guardianship case over which he was presiding. In the posts, Judge Winkler commented on accusations of elder abuse in the case regarding an elderly woman with dementia who had since been moved to assisted living.

Judge Winkler realized shortly after posting that he should not have commented publicly on an open case. He deleted the posts and handed control of his Facebook page over to a staff member. However, his actions violated several portions of Ohio’s Code of Judicial Conduct regarding comments judges can make about pending cases.

Specifically, Judge Winkler admitted his conduct violated rules about maintaining public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary, performing duties fairly and impartially, being courteous to all involved in cases, and not making public statements that could affect a case’s outcome or fairness.

The Ohio State Bar Association subsequently filed a disciplinary complaint against Judge Winkler in October 2023. At Thursday’s hearing, the three-member panel recommended a public reprimand as a discipline but did not make a final ruling. The Ohio Supreme Court will ultimately decide if Judge Winkler violated any rules and what disciplinary action, if any, should be imposed.

Judge Winkler has served on the Hamilton County Probate Court for over 20 years since first being elected in 1999. He was re-elected to an additional six-year term in 2014 and 2020. Court records indicate possible discipline could range from a public reprimand to a fully stayed six-month suspension.

Many individuals wrote letters of support for Judge Winkler as part of the disciplinary process, including Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Patrick Dinkelacker. Judge Dinkelacker’s letter praised Judge Winkler’s service as exemplary and ethical with integrity beyond reproach. Additional letters came from lawyers who practice before Judge Winkler’s court commending his fairness, empathy, and respect for litigants.

Attorney Julia Meister observed Judge Winkler diffusing tension and ensuring all feel heard in complex estate and guardianship matters. Attorney Victor Walton recalled Judge Winkler’s swift and welcoming response when same-sex marriage was legalized. And Attorney Louis Katz shared how Judge Winkler helped a terminally ill veteran get married on his deathbed.

Katz stressed this incident with social media posts was completely aberrational for Judge Winkler and urged the conduct board not to let it define the judge’s otherwise exemplary career. However, the board must still weigh Judge Winkler’s admitted rule violations against these character references as it releases its final public disciplinary decision.

For now, Judge Winkler remains on the bench presiding over new cases, as the Ohio Supreme Court maintains responsibility for making the conclusive ruling on whether and how he should be sanctioned for the acknowledged Facebook comments on a pending matter.

 

 

Source: FOX19