Judge is accused of wrongly using coercive detention to get misdemeanor defendants to pay fees, costs
An Ohio municipal judge has been accused of ignoring state law by jailing unrepresented defendants for failure to pay fees and fines without holding a hearing to determine their ability to pay.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct filed an ethics complaint against Judge Kim Hoover of the Stow Municipal Court on Monday, report the Akron Beacon Journal and Cleveland.com.
The Dec. 6 complaint said the Ohio Supreme Court sent a “bench card” to municipal judges in 2014 that outlines the steps that they must take before imposing a jail sentence for willful failure to pay a fine. Judges must conduct an ability-to-pay hearing, advise the defendant of the right to counsel, and find that the defendant has the ability to pay but refuses to do so. Judges should give defendants reasonable notice of the hearing.
The bench card cites Ohio statute and caselaw as authority. But Hoover didn’t follow the requirements, the ethics complaint said.
Hoover “has frequently employed illegal and coercive tactics, such as imprisonment for several days or detention for several hours, to force unrepresented criminal defendants to pay their fines and costs,” the complaint said. “In doing so, [Hoover] has exhibited a bias against people who appear without counsel and cannot afford to pay their fines and costs.”
In the past, Hoover has stated that the Stow Municipal Court should be a self-funded operation, the complaint said.
Hoover released a statement to the Akron Beacon Journal.
“I am aware of the complaint filed,” he said. “I deny making defendants pay fines/costs is a violation of ethical standards. I will respond to the complaint in a timely manner and look forward to a complete hearing on the issues.”
The complaint detailed 12 matters in which Hoover allegedly detained or jailed misdemeanor defendants to get them to pay fines and costs. Some of the defendants were charged with driving on a suspended license. One was charged with stealing soft drinks from a convenience store.
The ethics complaint includes some of Hoover’s alleged banter with the defendants. His statements include:
• After a defendant protested that the jail time would “mess up” his employment, Hoover replied it probably would. “That’s the problem with screwin’ with me,” he said.
• After jailing a a defendant for a few days for failure to pay, Hoover asked him, “Have you learned your lesson about being a deadbeat?”
• Hoover told a defendant that he would have to make phone calls to pay his fine. “You’re gonna start calling Mom and Dad and Grandma and ask them for birthday presents early, OK?” he said.