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Government & Politics

Stow municipal court judge may face discipline for jailing people who couldn't pay court fines, fees

Matthew Richmond
/
Ideastream Public Media
The Stow Municipal Court building opened in 2009. It handles tickets and low level misdemeanors for 16 towns in Summit County.

Stow Municipal Court Judge Kim Hoover is facing a complaint alleging he improperly incarcerated people who couldn’t pay fines and court fees. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct approved the complaint on Monday.

Its authors — Joseph Caligiuri, who serves as the Supreme Court’s disciplinary counsel, and assistant counsel, Kelli Schmidt — wrote that 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.”

They allege that Hoover “exhibited a bias against people who appear without counsel and cannot afford to pay their fines and costs.”

In a statement sent to the Akron Beacon Journal, Hoover questioned whether his actions warranted discipline.

“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,” Hoover said.

The complaint cites 12 instances, going back as far as 2015, that allegedly violate four separate parts of the state’s judicial code of conduct.

The instances involve low-level infractions. Municipal courts only hand out sentences in misdemeanor cases. Some were for suspended licenses or drunk driving or trespassing.

In each case, Hoover had someone placed in jail until they could pay their debt to the court or held in a room to call family members who might be able to pay on their behalf.

Under state law, people can only be incarcerated for failing to pay fines since court fees are considered civil penalties. Even then, a hearing has to be held to show the person is refusing to pay the fine, as opposed to lacking the resources.

Hoover is also accused of failing to take into account a person’s ability to pay and advising them of their right to counsel before sending them to jail.

Hoover has been a municipal court judge since 1995. He has until Dec. 27 to respond to the charges.

 

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