On Tuesday, March 5, 2024, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a ruling on an affidavit of disqualification filed against Judge Robert P. Ruehlman of the Jackson County Court of Common Pleas. The affidavit sought to remove Judge Ruehlman from presiding over two cases involving plaintiff Roger Dean Ward – Ward v. Ross and Jackson v. Ward.

In Ward v. Ross, Ward filed a civil lawsuit in January 2023 against the city of Jackson and several officials stemming from a traffic stop. Judge Ruehlman dismissed the complaint in August, citing a failure to state a valid claim. In November, he issued an order for Ward to pay attorney fees. The Supreme Court dismissed the affidavit regarding this case as there were no active proceedings pending.

In Jackson v. Ward, city officials filed a complaint in October 2023 seeking to declare Ward a vexatious litigator, noting a history of frivolous lawsuits. Judge Ruehlman granted a temporary restraining order. At a November preliminary injunction hearing, he heard testimony about Ward’s conduct. During the hearing, Judge Ruehlman stated his intention to declare Ward a vexatious litigator and threatened jail time if Ward file any future lawsuits without permission.

In his affidavit, Ward alleged Judge Ruehlman had a conflict of interest, and bias against him, and should be disqualified. Ward pointed to being labeled a “sovereign citizen,” threats of physical confrontation, and intimidating comments by Judge Ruehlman. However, the judge denied any bias or conflict.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court acknowledged judges can use strong language but found Judge Ruehlman’s repeated threats that he would “find” and jail Ward for contempt crossed a line, leading an objective observer to question impartiality. While contempt powers are within a court’s authority, predetermining the penalty before any potential hearing was the issue. As such, the high court granted the affidavit regarding Jackson v. Ward to preserve fairness and maintain public trust in the neutrality of the trial judge. A new judge will now oversee the ongoing matters in that case.

Judge Ruehlman is a retired judge sitting by assignment on the Jackson County Court of Common Pleas.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.