On Friday, December 29, 2023, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul for one year for multiple ethics violations during his time on the bench.
The case is entitled “Disciplinary Counsel v. Hon. Daniel Gaul,” with case number 2023-Ohio-4751.
The high court’s decision follows a recommendation from the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct to remove Judge Gaul from the bench for a year. The Board had found Judge Gaul committed 30 ethics violations in eight cases over a five-year period.
Some of the violations included coercing defendants into plea deals, making racially insensitive comments in court, unlawfully jailing individuals, and holding someone in contempt for saying the judge made himself look stupid. Judge Gaul admitted to 10 of the violations.
Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy said Judge Gaul’s actions undermined public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. She noted his conduct harmed multiple litigants who appeared before him.
Concurring Justice Patrick Fischer argued for a longer two-year suspension, with one year stayed, stating the one-year sanction was too lenient.
During oral arguments in April 2023, the main issue was whether Judge Gaul’s misconduct was motivated by selfishness, which could qualify as an aggravating factor. While the disciplinary counsel contended selfishness was a factor, Judge Gaul asserted his actions were not pervasive enough to warrant anything more than a stayed suspension.
The Court sided with Judge Gaul, finding the judicial rules do not clearly define “selfishness” in the context of being an aggravating element. Chief Justice Kennedy said the record did not prove Judge Gaul acted out of personal interest or was overly self-focused.
Judge Gaul has served on the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court since 1991, making him the longest-serving member. He is set to retire at the end of his current term this year due to the court’s age limits.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.