On Thursday, January 25, 2024, The Columbus Dispatch reported that legal scholars questioned an Ohio judge’s decision to initially withhold the identity of an elected official who improperly contacted her about a pending court case in Franklin County.
The article discussed a nuisance complaint filed by the city of Columbus seeking to close a new intercity bus depot located on the city’s west side. Franklin County Environmental Judge Stephanie Mingo informed the attorneys from both sides in mid-October that she had received an ex parte communication from an unnamed “elected official” trying to influence the outcome of the case. According to a transcript, the official told Judge Mingo that the bus station was a “problem for the community” and urged her to “do the right thing” and shut it down.
Judge Mingo disclosed the contact but refused to name the elected official, citing guidance from the state’s disciplinary counsel. Legal experts interviewed found no valid legal reason for Judge Mingo’s secrecy. It was later revealed that the caller was Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther. However, Judge Mingo only agreed to name Ginther two weeks after the mayoral election had concluded. Experts said identifying the official was crucial for transparency and so parties in the case understood potential political influence.
Ethics professors said Judge Mingo made several mistakes by accepting and having a substantive discussion with Mayor Ginther about the pending case, in violation of rules against ex parte communications. While disclosure of the contact’s content was required, experts noted identifying the person was also typically included for full transparency.
After the mayor’s identity was revealed, Judge Mingo recused herself from the bus depot case, though she maintained adhering to judicial conduct rules. The improper contact from Mayor Ginther occurred while he was campaigning for re-election. The former mayoral opponent suggested knowledge of Ginther’s actions may have impacted the election results. The situation remains under review by a special prosecutor.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch