Ohio Supreme Court hears arguments over discipline for disgraced former judge

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The Ohio Supreme Court is considering how to punish a former judge embattled by a sexual harassment scandal.

Timothy Horton resigned from the Ohio Court of Appeals in February, after a state board found that he abused his power and sexually harassed women on his staff.

But the Ohio Supreme Court could prevent him from ever practicing law again.

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After multiple days of testimony last year, the state Board of Professional Conduct recommended an indefinite suspension of Horton's license.

Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments for and against that punishment.

In 2018, Horton admitted to having a sexual relationship with a former intern and to sexually-charged conversations with a former bailiff.

The women testified it was sexual harassment.

"She believed that she had to have a good relationship with Judge Horton in order for her to advance in her career," said Scott Drexel of the Disciplinary Counsel. "And so she did come back. She also testified that she felt that he was grooming her, cultivating her, to be able to use her in a sexual manner. Did she agree to it? Did she participate in it? Yes. But she testified that it was not welcome, that she didn't want to, that she felt it was something she had to do."

The Board of Professional Conduct agreed, calling the women credible.

Tuesday, Horton's attorney argued otherwise.

"Mr. Horton's conduct, though boorish, though distasteful, though inappropriate, was not otherwise unwelcome. And respectfully, that matters," said Patrick Quinn. "This case looks very different if we're looking at this through the lens of a judge at the time who is talking or joking with a subordinate, with an employee as though they were a friend versus subjecting them to unwelcome conduct."

Ohio's Chief Justice seemed skeptical of Horton's defense.

"That's the testimony — that she felt compelled to do this because of your client, the way your client spoke about how he felt about people who were not loyal, not grateful. All the influence he (wielded), that sort of thing," said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. "You're saying he didn't overtly say 'You've got to work on my campaign' or 'You have to have sex with me.' I mean to me, the message is pretty clear."

The next step in this process is a final decision from the justices on Horton's discipline. Their decision could be released in the next three to six months.

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