On Tuesday, December 5, 2023, the Supreme Court of Ohio denied an affidavit seeking to disqualify Judge Sean E. Leuthold of the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas from presiding over a murder trial.
The affidavit had been filed by Micah R. Ault, the Special Crawford County Prosecutor handling the State of Ohio v. Brown case in which the defendant is accused of murder, felony murder, and involuntary manslaughter. Ault alleged that Judge Leuthold should be disqualified from the case due to the potential appearance of impropriety issues stemming from the judge’s personal and professional relationships with an anticipated key witness.
That witness, Ken Dyer, is expected to provide testimony about his friendship with the defendant as well as training the defendant received in jiu-jitsu, including how to perform chokeholds. Dyer was also with the defendant on the night of the altercation in question, according to court documents. Ault claimed that Dyer had once trained Judge Leuthold in jiu-jitsu personally, creating a close relationship. He also noted that Dyer’s wife, Nikki, currently works as the criminal administrator for the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas where Judge Leuthold presides.
However, in a 13-paragraph response, Judge Leuthold disputed having a relationship with Dyer that would require disqualification. He acknowledged training with Dyer in martial arts over a decade ago but said they had not socialized in approximately eight years. Judge Leuthold also clarified that Dyer has no current involvement with probation cases from his court as was alleged. regarding his staffer’s marriage to Dyer, Judge Leuthold stated Nikki Dyer was walled off from the case and he did not socialize with her outside of work.
In a written decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio concluded that Judge Leuthold’s past personal relationship with Dyer did not constitute a close friendship that would cause objective observers to doubt the judge’s impartiality. It was also noted that Dyer does not appear to have a financial or other material interest in the case’s outcome. Regarding Nikki Dyer’s employment, the Chief Justice cited case law finding no appearance of impropriety when a judge’s staff has a family tie to a witness as long as that staff member takes no substantive role in decisions.
Judge Leuthold’s courtroom is located at 112 E. Mansfield Street, Suite 200, Bucyrus, OH 44820, and can be reached at (419) 562-5771.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.