February 26, 2019 Adventures in the Law

Adventures in the Law: Give Me Proper Grammar or Give Me Jail

Norm Tabler

Ohio attorney Ronald Bailey is a stickler for good grammar. When Judge Roger Binette said to him three different times, “You may step back from the bench,” Ronald stood his ground, both literally and figuratively, each time responding, “I know I may, but I won’t.”

In addition to refusing to step back, Ronald defied the judge’s order to proceed with his defense of Pastor Richard Mick, charged with sex abuse of minors. Ronald’s position was that he couldn’t provide effective counsel due to the court’s refusal to grant the continuances he had requested. Without the continuances, Ronald insisted he didn’t have sufficient time to prepare for trial. After all, he had been on the case for a mere eleven months.

It is true that the court had denied Ronald’s last two continuance requests, but it had granted eight other continuance requests. Ronald’s requests make interesting reading. One noted that the trial date fell within Ohio Bike Week, which would make courthouse parking difficult. Another cited a planned trip to Las Vegas. Although Ronald would be home from the trip before the trial date, he planned to be suffering from jet lag.

When Ronald persisted in defying the order to proceed, the court found him in contempt. At the sanctions hearing, the court cited Ronald’s refusal to step back and refusal to proceed as grounds for the finding of contempt. He was fined $250 in court costs and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Ronald appealed. Among six assignments of error, he argued that the court “erred by confusing the permissive word ‘may’ with the mandatory word ‘shall.’ In a loss to the jurisprudence of grammar, the appellate court declined to address that argument, noting that Ronald was not held in contempt until he defied the order to proceed with his defense. That defiance, the court ruled, was adequate to support the finding of contempt and the sanctions that were imposed.

And the pastor? He was convicted at the conclusion of the trial. A year and a half later the conviction was overturned and the case remanded because of Ronald’s refusal to participate.

Ronald’s case is Ohio v. Mick [Bailey Appellant] (Ohio Ct. App. 2017). The pastor’s case is Ohio v. Mick (Ohio Ct. App. 2018).

Author

Norman G. Tabler, Jr. 
Columnist and Editorial Member, Voice of Experience

Norman G. Tabler, Jr., is a retired partner with Faegre Baker Daniels, where he led the firm’s health law practice. He serves on the editorial advisory boards of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division’s Voice of Experience, the ABA Health Law Section’s The Health Lawyer, and Law360 Health. He is the host of the American Health Lawyers podcast The Lighter Side of Health Law. He was educated at Princeton (A.B.), Yale (M.A.), and Columbia (J.D.). He may be reached at Norman.Tabler@FaegreBD.com.