On November 2, 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a ruling that will allow Tiffin City Council’s decision to replace a suspended municipal court judge to stand.
The court case stemmed from actions taken regarding former Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court Judge Mark Repp. In November 2021, Repp was suspended from practicing law for one year and from his judicial duties without pay for violating four rules governing the professional conduct of Ohio judges and lawyers, including failure to perform all his judicial duties fairly and impartially. Other judges were assigned to temporarily serve on the municipal court through November 2022.
Midway through Repp’s suspension in June 2022, Tiffin City Council passed an ordinance declaring the municipal court judgeship vacant under Ohio Revised Code 1901.10(B), which allows such a declaration if a judge is absent from duties for over six consecutive months. Once vacant, Governor Mike DeWine appointed Rhonda Best to fill the position in November 2022 at the conclusion of Repp’s one-year suspension.
Repp appealed the replacement, arguing he should be reinstated to his remaining term through 2025 now that his suspension had ended. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling determined that Tiffin City Council was within its authority under R.C. 1901.10(B) to declare the seat vacant due to Repp being unavailable for more than six months.
In a 4-3 decision, the majority opinion found that the vacancy law applies regardless of the reason for a judge’s prolonged absence. It maintained Repp was persistently unavailable and the city council and governor followed the proper process in filling the vacancy.
The dissenting justices argued R.C. 1901.10(B) cannot override the removal processes established in the Ohio Constitution, which require a filed complaint and hearing. Calling Repp’s removal a “sidestep” of the Constitution, they believed he should regain his seat now that he could once again practice law.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling, Tiffin City Council’s decision to replace Repp while he was suspended stands. Rhonda Best will remain the municipal court judge through the end of Repp’s original term in 2025. The case establishes that a judge’s long-term unavailability, regardless of reason, can result in their position being declared vacant. It guarantees the authority of local governments to fill judicial vacancies in these circumstances.
Mark Repp was born and raised in Seneca County, Ohio. He graduated from The Ohio State University and DePaul University College of Law. He started his career as a Cook County, Illinois state attorney and later served various roles in law for cities and counties. He also had his own law practice and served in the Army Reserves for 10 years. Judge Repp was first elected judge of the Tiffin Municipal Court in 2001 and re-elected in 2017.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.