Tiffin, Ohio — Lawyers representing Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court Judge Mark E. Repp have filed an official response to a certified complaint filed against him last month before the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The complaint alleges that Repp, who has served as a judge since 2002, abused his contempt power and engaged in “impatient, undignified, and discourteous conduct” during a court hearing in March 2020.
According to a document filed with the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio by Repp’s attorney, Lisa M. Zaring, Repp admitted to some of the allegations outlined in the certified complaint but denied others.
According to the complaint, while on probation after being charged with endangering children in 2016, Trevor Danner was found guilty in April 2018 on a charge of making a false statement.
On Aug. 9, 2018, Danner’s probation was transferred to the PIVOT (Participating in Victory of Transition) program, according to the complaint. Danner was ordered to appear at a PIVOT proceeding on Oct. 25, 2018, but failed to appear causing bench warrants to be issued for his arrest.
Danner was taken into custody on March 10, 2020 on the bench warrants and additional charges of driving under suspension, driving under a 12-point license suspension, and having a fictitious vehicle registration.
On March 11, 2020, Danner was scheduled to appear before Judge Repp in Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court for arraignment and probation violations. On the same day, Alexzandria Orta entered Repp’s courtroom to observe Danner’s arraignment/probation violation hearing.
Danner and Orta have two young children together, the complaint states.
According to the complaint, Orta sat in the back row of Repp’s courtroom waiting quietly for Danner’s case to be called. While handling an unrelated case, Repp is alleged to have directed his attention to Orta.
“Going to be lots of drug tests today. Is that Trevor [Danner]’s girlfriend back there?,” Repp asked, according to the compliant.
After a short recess, while still on the record in the unrelated case, Repp again made an impromptu reference to Orta in open court, the complaint states.
“He is clean,” a prosecutor said regarding a drug test of the defendant in the unrelated case.
“At least we don’t know that dope is part of your issue. Right, Ms. Orta? It’s always a bad thing…,” Repp said, according to the complaint.
“I don’t, I don’t believe in drugs, your honor,” the defendant replied.
“That’s good. I wish all of us could say that. Right, Ms. Orta?,” Repp said in response, according to the complaint.
Before calling the next case, the complaint states that Repp said “Oh, before we get started, I think Ms. Orta’s under the influence. I want her drug tested.”
Repp, in his official response, acknowledged his behavior as outlined in the complaint.
According to the compliant, at the time Repp ordered Orta to be drug tested, she did not have a pending case before Repp, nor was she on probation. Orta had also never been charged nor convicted of any drug-related offenses, the complaint states.
Additionally, Orta had not made any disturbances in the courtroom, according to the complaint.
A bailiff directed Orta to follow him out of the courtroom so that the drug test could be administered. Orta quietly complied with the bailiff’s instructions, according to the complaint.
Approximately ten minutes after Orta left the courtroom, Repp called Danner’s cases. Danner appeared via video from the Seneca County Jail.
The prosecutor then recited the charges against Danner, and Repp asked Danner how he wished to plead. Danner indicated that he wished to plead no contest, and Repp accepted Danner’s plea before asking him if he and/or Orta had overdosed recently.
“You’re, you’re an institutional kind of guy, right? Hey, is it true? I heard you overdosed a couple weeks ago,” Repp said to Danner, according to the complaint.
“No. I didn’t, I didn’t personally overdose,” Danner replied.
“Oh, was it, was it — Alexzandria that overdosed? Somebody did,” said Repp, the complaint states. “I know that you’ve been doping all along. You ran, and what do you think I’m going to do? I know that you’ve been playing cat and mouse with the cops for months. For almost a year. Now that chicken’s come home to roost, my friend.”
According to the complaint, at the time that Repp asked whether Danner or Orta had overdosed, he did not possess any verified evidence that either Danner or Orta had recently overdosed.
Repp then read the police report from Danner’s traffic arrest, which indicated that Orta was in the car with Danner.
“Wow. Ms. Orta’s down here. She’s probably going to go to jail too. Who’s watching the kids, Trev?,” Repp said, according to the complaint, to which Danner replied “Probably my dad. Like, my father.”
The complaint states that Repp proceeded to laugh before saying, “Your dad. I heard your dad went to jail for you, too; is that right?”
“Hey, Trev, you’re only here because they hunted you down like a dog,” Repp said to Danner, according to the complaint.
At 12:54 p.m. the same day, a probation officer brought Orta back into the courtroom and informed Repp that Orta had refused to take a drug test.
“Why didn’t you want to take it?,” Repp asked Orta. “Because I don’t see how I’m in trouble,” she responded, according to the complaint.
“Well, you come into my courtroom, I think you’re high, you’re in trouble,” Repp said before holding Orta in contempt of court and sentencing her to ten days in jail or until she agreed to take a drug test.
According to the complaint, in his judgment entry, Repp failed to specify what conduct he believed Orta had engaged in that was contemptuous. Orta was then escorted to the Seneca County Jail.
The complaint states that Orta was required to take a urine test at the jail to determine whether she was pregnant before undergoing a full body scan. She was then required to undergo two full body scans — one in street clothes and one in jail attire, according to the complaint. The officer who conducted the scans allegedly detected anomalies on the scans, which the officer believed might have been contraband inside Orta’s body. However, the complaint states that the officer failed to describe the alleged anomalies in Orta’s jail record.
According to Repp’s official response to the complaint, he denies, for lack of knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief, the allegations regarding Orta’s treatment at the jail.
Orta was then transported to Tiffin Mercy Hospital for further testing. At the hospital, Orta was required to take a second pregnancy test and to undergo a CT scan or MRI to look for contraband. The scans did not detect contraband, and Orta was returned to the Seneca County Jail.
Repp’s response said he also denied, for lack of knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief, the allegations regarding Orta’s transport to the hospital.
Sometime during the evening of March 11, 2020, Orta retained Attorney Dean Henry to represent her, according to the complaint. Repp said in his official response that he knew Orta retained Attorney Henry, but denied, for lack of knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief, when Orta hired Attorney Henry.
Henry and Seneca County Prosecutor Derek DeVine moved to dismiss the contempt finding, claiming that it was not supported by law and was a violation of both the Ohio and United States Constitutions.
Repp then dismissed the contempt finding, however, his dismissal was not valid as jurisdiction over the case had already been transferred to the Third District U.S. Court of Appeals due to Henry’s filing of a Notice of Appeal.
On Sept. 21, 2020, the Third District U.S. Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Orta’s case, finding that “the record is devoid of any specific observations or findings by [Repp] of Orta’s misconduct in the courtroom supporting his stated belief that she was under the influence while observing the court proceedings,” and that Repp’s “command compelling [Orta] to submit a drug test was improper.”
As such, the appellate court concluded that Repp’s “finding of Orta in direct contempt of court was without cause and constituted an invalid exercise of his contempt power under R.C. 2705.02(A)”
Disciplinary counsel Joseph M. Caligiuri, who filed the complaint against Repp on Dec. 2, requested that Repp be found in violation of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct and be sanctioned accordingly.
Repp, in his official response, denied that his conduct, as alleged, violated a rule prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. Repp admitted the remaining allegations, including:
- Jud.Cond.R 1.2 – Requiring a judge to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
- Jud.Cond.R. 2.2 – Requiring a judge to uphold and apply the law and to perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.
- Jud.Cond.R. 2.8(B) – Requiring a judge to be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants and others with whom the judge deals with in an official capacity.
The case will be reviewed by the Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Repp is being represented by attorneys Lisa M. Zaring and George D. Jonson of Cincinnati-based law firm Montgomery Jonson LLP.