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Will a Judge-Prosecutor Advisor Marriage Cause Ethical Conflict?

According to experts, the marriage of the newly-elected Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Sherrie Miday to Ryan Miday, communications director for County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, is unlikely to create any major judicial conflicts of interest or ethics issues. Although Judge Miday may face pressure to recuse herself from any high-profile cases her husband is involved with, no professional rules of conduct nor Ohio Supreme Court decisions require an elected judge whose spouse is involved with a party in a criminal case to step aside and ask a visiting judge to hear the case.

“This sounds like a position where [the relationship] is tangential enough that we wouldn’t expect it to affect the judge’s ability to be fair and impartial,” said Cassandra Robertson, a professor of legal ethics at Case Western Reserve University. Joseph Gross, an attorney and past chair of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s Ethics and Professionalism Committee, agreed with Robertson’s statement. “I do not think anyone should question the judge's impartiality in a criminal matter just because her husband works for the prosecutor's office, especially since he is not a lawyer there,” Gross added.

Familial Ties in the Judicial System Are Nothing New

The Cuyahoga County court system has had a long history of similar marital and familial relationships between members. For example, Judge Nancy R. McDonnell is married to John Kosko, a supervisor in the Cuyahoga County’s prosecutor’s office. Newly-elected Judge Michael Shaughnessy is the brother of defense attorney Thomas Shaughnessy, while Judge Joan Synenberg is married to defense attorney Roger Synenberg. What keeps these relationships in check are judicial canons and decisions by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct.

Some of the many rules that prevent against ethical conflicts include:

  • Attorneys may not work on any case which enters a relative’s courtroom
  • Judges must step aside if an attorney relative works on a case that enters their courtroom
  • Judges must be disqualified in cases where they cannot be impartial

In the Miday’s case, while a recusal request may be raised if Ryan Miday played a key role in a large case before it was assigned to Judge Miday’s courtroom, there is no clear precedent which requires a judge to recuse themselves or even inform attorneys of the relationship. Attorney Ian N. Friedman of Friedman & Nemeck, LLC Attorneys at Law believes that there is no conflict of interest to be worried about, having personally known the Midays to be upstanding and professional individuals. “Even if Ryan were standing outside the courtroom projecting the opinions of the prosecutor's office, I would have no problem walking right past him and going into Judge Miday's courtroom and would expect nothing less than a thoughtful, fair and impartial ruling for my client," Friedman said.

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