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WARD v. VILLAGE MONROEVILLE

decided: November 14, 1972.

WARD
v.
VILLAGE OF MONROEVILLE



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO.

Brennan, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Douglas, Stewart, Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell, JJ., joined. White, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, J., joined, post, p. 62.

Author: Brennan

[ 409 U.S. Page 57]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Pursuant to Ohio Rev. Code Ann. ยง 1905.01 et seq. (1968), which authorizes mayors to sit as judges in cases of ordinance violations and certain traffic offenses, the Mayor of Monroeville, Ohio, convicted petitioner of two traffic offenses and fined him $50 on each. The Ohio Court of Appeals for Huron County, 21 Ohio App. 2d 17,

[ 409 U.S. Page 58254]

     N. E. 2d 375 (1969), and the Ohio Supreme Court, 27 Ohio St. 2d 179, 271 N. E. 2d 757 (1971), three justices dissenting, sustained the conviction, rejecting petitioner's objection that trial before a mayor who also had responsibilities for revenue production and law enforcement denied him a trial before a disinterested and impartial judicial officer as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We granted certiorari. 404 U.S. 1058 (1972).

The Mayor of Monroeville has wide executive powers and is the chief conservator of the peace. He is president of the village council, presides at all meetings, votes in case of a tie, accounts annually to the council respecting village finances, fills vacancies in village offices and has general overall supervision of village affairs. A major part of village income is derived from the fines, forfeitures, costs, and fees imposed by him in his mayor's court. Thus, in 1964 this income contributed $23,589.50 of total village revenues of $46,355.38; in 1965 it was $18,508.95 of $46,752.60; in 1966 it was $16,085 of $43,585.13; in 1967 it was $20,060.65 of $53,931.43; and in 1968 it was $23,439.42 of $52,995.95. This revenue was of such importance to the village that when legislation threatened its loss, the village retained a management consultant for advice upon the problem.*fn1

[ 409 U.S. Page 59]

     Conceding that "the revenue produced from a mayor's court provides a substantial portion of a municipality's funds," the Supreme Court of Ohio held nonetheless that "such fact does not mean that a mayor's impartiality is so diminished thereby that he cannot act in a disinterested fashion in a judicial capacity." 27 Ohio St. 2d, at 185, 271 N. E. 2d, at 761. We disagree with that conclusion.

The issue turns, as the Ohio court acknowledged, on whether the Mayor can be regarded as an impartial judge under the principles laid down by this Court in Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927). There, convictions for prohibition law violations rendered by the Mayor of North College Hill, Ohio, were reversed when it appeared that, in addition to his regular salary, the Mayor received

[ 409 U.S. Page 60]

     $696.35 from the fees and costs levied by him against alleged violators. This Court held that "it certainly violates the Fourteenth Amendment, and deprives a defendant in a criminal case of due process of law, to subject his liberty or property to the judgment of a court the judge of which has a direct, personal, substantial, pecuniary interest in reaching a conclusion against him in his case." Id., at 523.

The fact that the mayor there shared directly in the fees and costs did not define the limits of the principle. Although "the mere union of the executive power and the judicial power in him can not be said to violate due process of law," id., at 534, the test is whether the mayor's situation is one "which would offer a possible temptation to the average man as a judge to forget the burden of proof required to convict the defendant, or which might lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true between the State and the accused .. . ." Id., at 532. Plainly that "possible temptation" may also exist when the mayor's executive responsibilities for village finances may make him partisan to maintain the high level of contribution from the mayor's court. This, too, is a "situation in which an official perforce occupies two ...


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