On Monday, March 27, 2023, the Disciplinary Counsel and Hon. Kim Richard Hoover, a judge in the Stow Municipal Court in Ohio, stipulated an extension of time for the former to file its answer brief to the respondent’s objections to the certified report by the board of professional conduct. This is in relation to the respondent’s charges for allegedly using coercive tactics to force criminal defendants to pay their fines.

The case is entitled “In the Matter against Kim Richard Hoover,” and was brought by the Disciplinary Counsel with case no. 2021-034.

The charges cited Code of Judicial Conduct 1.2, 2.2, 2.3, and 8.4(d) which states:

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.

A judge shall uphold and apply the law and shall perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.

A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice.

A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.

On December 6, 2021, the Disciplinary Counsel filed a complaint against the respondent. It alleged that the respondent has frequently employed illegal and coercive tactics, such as imprisonment for several days or detention for several hours, to force unrepresented criminal defendants to pay their fines and costs. As a result, the respondent has exhibited a bias against people who appear without counsel and cannot afford to pay their fines and costs.

In the findings of facts, it was found that the complaint against judge Hoover basically boils down to money. It specifically involves the respondent’s methods of collecting fines and costs from municipal defendants, whether those methods are lawful, and whether vulnerable individuals were coerced to pay costs and fines, thereby creating the equivalent of a modem-day debtor’s prison.

The filing states:

On September 24, 2019, Douglas Dawson pleaded guilty before Respondent to driving under suspension, an unclassified, non-jailable misdemeanor offense. On December 29, 2019, police arrested Dawson on the outstanding warrant, and Dawson appeared before the Respondent the following day. Stipulations 1120-21. After calling the case, the following exchange took place between Respondent and Dawson:

Respondent: Including two bench warrants, which jerked your court costs way up. How long ya been in jail now?
Dawson: Um-since last night. Gonna screw- this -that’ll mess up my uh employment too.
Respondent: Yeah. It probably will. That’s the problem with screwin’ with me.
Dawson: Yeah- yeah – I know.
Respondent: When it comes time I don’t care. And that’s where we’re at right
Dawson: Right.
Respondent: In the “I don’t care” category. So, you’ve heard people come up here. I try hard to keep people out of jail. I try hard to give a little break – Dawson: I-I understand, Your Honor. I know. I know.
Respondent: Good luck.
Dawson: How many days?
Respondent: Oh, I think I put on there release you after January 7th-
Bailiff: Release upon payment in full or release January 5th-
Respondent: 5th.
Bailiff: Credit $50 a day in jail.
Respondent: So every day, you owe $50 less than you did the day before.

The filing continues:

“As a result of the Respondent’s order, Dawson spent seven days in jail. Stipulations 125. Respondent did not apply R.C. 2947.14, did not provide adequate due process to Dawson, and did not segregate the Si00 fine from the court costs. Even if Respondent had applied R.C. 2947.14, Dawson could have been held only for two days based on the amount of the fine.”

In another count, on October 19, 2022, a person named Fovozzo was arrested and charged with two unclassified and nonmailable misdemeanor offenses. At the time, Fovozzo had a balance of $732 on his prior closed cases. Fovozzo appeared before the respondent, without counsel, for arraignment and entered a not-guilty plea.

The filing further states:

“Without meaningful inquiry into Fovozzo’s ability to pay and without advising him of his due process rights, Respondent held Fovozzo in an area of the courtroom referred to as “the bullpen'” until he could be transported to the jail or obtain the funds necessary to pay the fines and costs on the closed cases. Respondent stipulated that the “bullpen'” was a secure area adjacent to the courtroom where persons cannot leave until released by security. Respondent also stipulated that Fovozzo was held “in custody” at that time. S Nearly five hours later, Fovozzo used a credit card to pay $622.50, the balance owed on the two closed cases, and Respondent authorized his release.”

The board stated that the respondent failed to comprehend the significant impact that his conduct has had on both the victims and their families. In this case, the victims were municipal court defendants who were poor and downtrodden in society. All were struggling financially, and according to the board, these individuals should not lose their liberty when others would not. The panel notes the repeated and obvious disparate treatment of the respondent to the socioeconomically disadvantaged as an aggravating factor.

The board noted the judicial philosophy of the respondent where he states, “If you don’t have any money, then it ain’t going to work out for you today.” According to the board, this philosophy of the respondent does not promote the public’s confidence in the judiciary and is inconsistent with a judge’s fundamental responsibility to do justice.

On May 24, 2022, the Disciplinary Counsel filed an amended complaint. Two additional counts were added to the previous 14 that were alleged against the respondent. The Disciplinary Counsel requested therein that the respondent be found in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Professional Conduct.

On June 27, 2022, the respondent filed an answer to the amended complaint. In the said response, the respondent admitted some and denied some parts of the allegations. In total, the respondent engaged in 16 counts of misconduct totaling 64 violations that impacted the liberty and due process rights of 16 unrepresented defendants who were economically disadvantaged and, in some cases, suffering from mental disorders and/or substance abuse. According to the board, the respondent displayed an unwillingness to acknowledge his misconduct and the harm caused by his actions.

Based upon these findings, on February 3, 2023, the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio recommended the suspension of Hon. Kim Richard Hoover

The Recommendation states:

“Pursuant to Gov. Bar R. V, Section 12, the Board of Professional Conduct considered this matter on February 3, 2023. The Board voted to adopt findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation of the hearing panel and recommends that Respondent, Hon. Kim Richard Hoover, be suspended from the practice of law in Ohio for a period of two years and ordered to pay the costs of this proceeding.”

In the respondent’s objection to the factual findings filed on March 21, 2023, he emphasized that in each of these cases, he issued a valid sentence, within the confines of the applicable law, and fashioned alternatives for the benefit of the defendant and the overwhelmed court system as a whole. The respondent explained one by one all the charges against him and justified the same. The respondent stated that It is the relator’s obligation to prove by clear and convincing evidence all the respondent’s conduct.

In response, On March 27, 2023, the Disciplinary Counsel filed a stipulation for an extension of time for the relator to file its answer brief to the respondent’s objections,

The Stipulation states:

“Under S.Ct.Prac.R. 3.03(B)(2)%a), relator and respondent stipulate to an extension of time for the relator to file its answer brief to the respondent’s objections to the Certified Report by the Board of Professional Conduct. Respondent filed his objections on March 21, 2023, and the current date for filing the relator’s answer brief is April 5, 2023. Thus, this stipulated extension is timely. The parties stipulate a 20-day extension, making April 25, 2023, the new date for filing the relator’s answer brief. Relator has not requested a previous extension in this matter.”

Judge Hoover attended the University of Akron School of Law.

Judge Hoover’s Courtroom is located at 4400 Courthouse Blvd, Stow, OH 44224, and can be reached at +1 330-564-4200. His info can be found on stowmunicourt.com.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.