COLUMBUS – The Ohio Supreme Court has dismissed a defendant’s request in two local lawsuits to remove the Hocking County judge hearing the cases.
In an entry for judgment filed on June 23, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concluded that Mark Anthony of Logan had not presented a convincing argument to disqualify Judge John T. Wallace of Hocking County Common Pleas from hearing civil cases in which Anthony is named a defendant. .
Anthony is a defendant in two lawsuits, both related to a 142-acre property on National Route 664 that was used for two different outdoor adventure parks / ziplines. The first lawsuit dates back to 2013. It is the fallout from the disintegration of a company, Hocking Peaks LLC, which Anthony had started with his business partner Karry Gemmell, to operate the former Hocking Peaks adventure park on the site of Route 664.
This lawsuit is still ongoing, although Gemmell appears to have largely prevailed in the litigation, having won a judgment of approximately $ 500,000.
The second complaint was filed in March this year by Eventuresencore, Inc., a Canal Winchester, Ohio-based company that was looking to open a new adventure park business on the former Hocking Peaks location. In its legal complaint, Eventuresencore alleged that after a dispute arose between the company and Anthony over payment for certain construction work at the site, Anthony began trying to sabotage the park and prevent it from open up. Judge Wallace issued a restraining order in that case, essentially barring Anthony from entering the property.
On May 28, Anthony submitted an affidavit to the state Supreme Court, requesting that Wallace be disqualified from hearing the lawsuits. In it, he claimed that Wallace’s business rulings so far suggest that he favors the plaintiffs’ cases over those of Anthony. One of the examples Anthony cited in support of his claim was the issuance by Wallace of the restraining order against him, followed by an extension of that order, without Anthony attending a hearing of the court on the matter.
Wallace filed a response to the disqualification action, in which he asked the High Court to dismiss Anthony’s disqualification request, and said he had sought to hear the lawsuits in which Anthony is involved “without bias or prejudice “.
In the judgment of June 23, Chief Justice O’Connor noted that in the context of a request to challenge a judge, the term “bias or prejudice” implies “a hostile feeling or spirit of ill will or undue friendship or favoritism towards one of the litigants or his lawyer, with the formation of a fixed anticipatory judgment on the part of the judge.
She goes on to state that the standard for assessing whether a hearing of a case by a particular judge seems inappropriate is an objective standard – “A judge should step down or be removed from office if a reasonable and objective observer had a serious doubts as to the impartiality of the judge ”. In proceedings to challenge a judge, adds the text of the judgment, the judge enjoys a “presumption of impartiality” – that is to say that the burden of proof lies with the person alleging bias. . Anthony did not overcome this presumption, concludes the entry.
“Mr. Anthony has not established that Judge Wallace has hostile feelings towards him or that the judge formed a fixed anticipation judgment on any issue in the underlying cases,” writes O’Connor. Anthony also did not make a convincing argument to disqualify Judge Wallace in order to avoid an appearance of bias. “
The mere fact that Wallace issued and extended the restraining order, the entry indicates, does not mean that the judge will not be able to assess the evidence impartially at a hearing to determine whether he must issue a preliminary injunction.
Another point in Wallace’s favor is that it is well established in Ohio case law that when a judge has presided over a case for a long time, he should not be removed except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Wallace served as a judge in the previous trial for eight years, which included holding a trial in 2016 and releasing an 81-page decision in 2019.
“In view of Judge Wallace’s significant and prolonged involvement with these parties and this matter, Mr. Anthony has not alleged any fact that could reach the level of extraordinary circumstances justifying the dismissal of Judge Wallace at this stage of the litigation,” said the entrance.