The relationship between Akron Municipal Court Judge Joy Malek Oldfield and Public Defender Catherine Loya lends itself to ethical questions about the relationships among courtroom personnel in general.
The dean of the University of Akron School of Law, Martin Belsky, won't comment on this particular case, but says the "appearance of impropriety" is at the center of any situation involving relationships or other behavior or any member of the Bar. He agrees that lawyers, and particularly judges, should be held to a higher standard than many professions.
Relationships among people in any profession are common and usually accepted, but in this case, it involves prosecutors and judges, judges and defense attorneys, defense attorneys and probation officers.
"Do we say they can't have that friendship or relationship until that person leaves the courtroom?," said Belsky. "That's a harder question and I think it's a question of what's acceptable and what's perceived to be unacceptable."
Belsky likes to use the phrase "train your mind without hardening your heart" when teaching ethics to law students. He says part of that training is teaching future lawyers that they have to maintain completely separate relationships inside and outside the courtroom.
"If something happens that makes that relationship visible - even if nothing happens, but it's visible - there are going to be some lay people who don't understand the rule differentiation," said Belsky, who is also the chairman of the national advisory committee of the American Judicature Society.
Loya had been assigned to Judge Oldfield's courtroom, but has since been reassigned.
Belsky says it's not uncommon for lawyers or judges to remove themselves from cases due to personal ties to people or situations, not because justice couldn't be carried out, but because sometimes it just looks bad.