Oakwood Municipal Court Judge Margaret Quinn said she has been harassed and criticized for her decision to write a character letter for convicted sexual assailant Brock Turner, but she doesn’t believe she violated judicial ethics.
Quinn wrote a letter to Santa Clara County Court Judge Aaron Persky on Turner’s behalf and argued against a prison sentence for the Oakwood High School graduate, instead recommending Turner could counsel, speak to and warn other men “about the devastating consequences of a single decision.”
Turner was unanimously found guilty by jury in California in a behind-the-dumpster sexual assault of an intoxicated, unconscious woman at Stanford University in January 2015. He was sentenced to six months in jail.
Ohio’s Code of Judicial Conduct states “a judge shall not testify as a character witness in a judicial, administrative, or other adjudicatory proceeding, or otherwise vouch for the character of a person in a legal proceeding, except when duly summoned.”
Quinn, a retired federal prosecutor, told the Dayton Daily News she wrote the letter as a friend of a family she knows from Holy Angels Parish — not as a part-time judge.
“I did not write the letter as a judge. I never once mentioned that I was a part-time municipal judge,” she said. “I wrote it on my stationery. I wrote it as a citizen, as a mom and as somebody who knew this family and this individual.”
Ohio Supreme Court Board of Professional Conduct Director Richard Dove said he could not comment on any specific allegations — or even confirm or deny the existence of an investigation by the board, which enforces judicial ethics.
But he said he would advise judges against providing character testimony unless they are subpoenaed to do so.
“The code applies to a judge regardless of the capacity in which they’re acting,” Dove said.
Other legal colleagues said Quinn’s decision to write a character letter for Turner was aboveboard.
“I don’t see a problem whatsoever,” said Jonathan Coughlan, an attorney who served 16 years as disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court. “If you read that letter and you’re a judge in California, can you tell me she’s abusing her power to advance her interests? You can’t even tell she’s a judge.”
“I think it’s very intentional,” he said. “If she’s trying to garner support for this kid, why not mention she’s a judge? She went out of her way not to mention it.”
AJ Wagner, a Democrat who served as a Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge for a decade, said he believes Quinn, a Republican, was adequately careful to avoid in her letter mentioning she is a judge.
“I think she does avoid the use of the office, and that’s the purpose of the rule,” he said.
According to the Oakwood court, Quinn’s judgeship is part-time with a $67,000 annual salary — “set at a level to attract experienced, licensed attorneys to the position.” The court is one of the state’s smallest, but the race for judge was one of the region’s most congested with eight contestants in 2013.
Quinn’s was one of nearly 40 letters written by people attesting to Turner’s character. Letter-writers were threatened with violence — one email threatened rape — and suffered professional consequences.
Quinn said such backlash weakens the judicial system by scaring people away from writing character testimonies that judges rely on to consider what type of person they are sentencing.
“But if people are so afraid because they will lose their jobs, or their band gigs, or people will accost them in grocery stores, if people are afraid to speak out, then we’re going to have a judicial system that is hamstrung by fear, and a judge won’t have all the information he needs to make a decision,” she said.
>> NEW DETAILS: Report: Turner lied, will receive alcohol counseling
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