Columbus, Ohio: More than 2,700 cases overseen by William T. Marshall, a former common pleas judge could be reexamined after allegations that the judge came to work drunk and was possibly involved in a local sex trafficking ring in Portsmouth.
The Ohio Public Defender’s office is launching an effort to review any case overseen by retired Scioto County Common Pleas Court Judge William T. Marshall that involved prison time or other court supervision.
That’s 2,707 cases in the 15 years Marshall served, said Ohio Public Defender Tim Young. He said there are at least 1,200 cases since 2013, when Marshall was first hospitalized for alcoholism, according to court documents.
None of those cases involved the death penalty.
“If you’re a severe alcoholic, you’re going to work under the influence … and that means you are ruling on people’s cases,” Young said. “It also makes you open to manipulation to those who know and perhaps your cases aren’t being handled fairly because of the fear of being outed.”
“A fair justice system relies on so many things, but nothing more important than a fair arbitrator – the judge.”
Marshall retired last year just weeks before receiving a six-month suspension from practicing law by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct for improperly inserting himself into his daughter’s speeding ticket case. The board examines allegations of lawyer or judge misconduct.
Earlier this year, Marshall’s mother and daughter filed for guardianship over the former judge, a legal method to take control of his personal and financial affairs. The family argued that Marshall was no longer able to take care of himself because of advanced alcoholism.
Neither Marshall, 62, nor his lawyer George Davis III returned messages seeking comment.
Marshall also has been linked to an alleged sex trafficking ring in southern Ohio. Earlier this year, The Enquirer published a year-long investigation into those allegations.
Three different women said they had been approached to either have sex with Marshall or work as a prostitute for local defense attorney Michael Mearan in exchange for more lenient sentences.
A criminal investigation into those allegations is underway and now includes officials with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, The Enquirer previously reported.
The Public Defender’s office, a public agency for the state, provides legal services to criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer, especially in appeals or death penalty cases.
Officials with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office referred comment to Scioto County Prosecutor Shane Tieman, who declined to confirm any investigation.
As for any issues with Marshall’s former cases, Tieman said he would be willing to “review individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis.”
“But they are going to be sorely disappointed with this expense of resources,” Tieman said. “I don’t think there are going to be that many if any cases that have problems. Everything is written down, recorded on video and on audio.”
Tieman said that Marshall “obviously had an issue but that it won’t turn out to be as big an issue as they are making it.”
Young said that he wasn’t surprised by Tieman’s response but that “it does sadden me.”
“The prosecutor’s function first and foremost is to do justice,” Young said. “Perhaps the majority of people who appeared in front of this judge committed some act that was illegal and appropriate outcomes were done.”
“The problem is how do you pick those out of the ones that were failures?”
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Young said his office would work in partnership with Case Western University law professor Michael Benza and some of his students to start reviewing the cases to look for discrepancies.
Benza said nothing of this scope had ever been attempted in Ohio, and that he might turn the exercise into a full legal course in the fall semester.
“Most of these people are going to be outside the window of what regular litigation could help them with,” Benza said. “We’re just pulling at the first or second thread of this sweater.
“The nuances and scope of this are as yet unknowable,” Benza said.
Young said the agency has been investigating claims against Marshall since late 2017, when his office “was concerned” that an unnamed woman allegedly received a long sentence after refusing to participate in sex trafficking.
But it wasn’t until Marshall’s family earlier this year filed for guardianship that the office launched its current effort to look at all cases.
Those probate documents, which were recently unredacted after The Enquirer threatened legal action, show how severe Marshall’s alcoholism had progressed earlier this year.
The court-appointed investigator wrote that Marshall suffered from alcoholic encephalopathy and “wet brain,” a condition brought on by extreme drinking that limits the brain’s ability to process certain vitamins and function even when the subject is sober.
The documents also show that Marshall was hospitalized for his addiction at least three times after 2013 when he crashed his car and was convicted for driving under the influence charge.
The Ohio Supreme Court reprimanded Marshall for the incident and his court sentence included mandatory rehab.
In previous interviews, Mearan acknowledged he drove Marshall to rehab after that incident but denied any involvement in sex trafficking or being involved with Marshall on a personal level.
Young said that the judge oversaw 1,200 cases involving either prison time or court supervision since 2013 alone, and “that is an important date for us.”
“That’s when we have concrete evidence that his drinking was severe enough to be severely interfering with his life and potentially with his ability to make fair choices from the bench,” Young said.
Image: Judge William T. Marshall, now 62, retired from the Scioto County Common Pleas bench in Portsmouth, Ohio in March of 2018. This is part of a larger photograph that hangs in the courthouse of past and present judges.