Tiffin, Ohio — The Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio has recommended a one-year suspension for Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court Judge Mark Repp over a certified complaint that was filed against him last year.
The Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates allegations and initiates complaints concerning misconduct of judges or attorneys within the state, recommended that Repp be suspended from the practice of law for one year, with the final six months of the suspension stayed on the condition that Repp engages in no further misconduct.
“[Repp’s] misconduct, which he committed in open court, certainly casts doubt on his impartiality and weakened the public’s perception of the integrity of the judiciary,” the Disciplinary Counsel wrote in a post-hearing brief to the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct, which is the agency charged with disciplining lawyers and judges for ethical misconduct.
Attorneys representing Repp, on the other hand, said in their post-hearing brief that they believe “the public will be protected going forward” if Repp is given a fully stayed six-month suspension.
“I did not treat Ms. Orta appropriately,” Repp is quoted as saying in the brief. “I wouldn’t do it again.”
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 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.”
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.
Sometime during the evening of March 11, 2020, Orta retained Attorney Dean Henry to represent her, according to the complaint.
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)”
A final decision from the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct is pending.