The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could change the way sentencing is handled in the state. In State v. Tommy Glover, the state’s highest court will decide whether the 60-year sentence he received after being charged with six armed robberies on five different people in Hamilton County was justified. According to court documents, the state requested that the Ohio Supreme Court review the case after claiming that the First Appellate District Court of Appeals “set a dangerous precedent” by disagreeing with a trial court’s sentence and ruling that a shorter sentence was appropriate. Attorneys for Glover want the state supreme court to consider whether the gravity of the crime was properly assessed and whether such lengthy, consecutive sentences for these types of crimes are necessary to protect the public.
During the Wednesday oral arguments, every justice on the court asked attorneys questions, with the exception of Justice Joseph Deters, who was the Hamilton County prosecutor in 2020 when Glover was charged and in 2022 when he was sentenced. Deters left the prosecutor’s office after Gov. Mike DeWine appointed him to the high court. He has since filed a candidature to challenge Justice Melody Stewart for a different position on the court, rather than for his appointed seat.
Despite being the county’s chief prosecutor during the years when the case was heard, Deters did not recuse himself from the proceedings. His office stated that this is because he did not play a significant role in the case as prosecutor, and his recusal was not requested in this matter. When an appeal involving Hamilton County’s six-week abortion ban case reached the state supreme court, Deters filed to withdraw, allowing a visiting judge to hear oral arguments in his place.
However, legal experts argue that Deters’ previous recusals do not obligate him to recuse himself from all cases in which he served as a prosecutor. Judges must recuse themselves whenever their impartiality is called into question, according to the rules. In recent years, the issue of impartiality has arisen in more ways than usual, with questions of political partisanship being used (incorrectly) as grounds for recusal against judges.
According to the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, a justice can file for recusal on their own, or a party in a case can request recusal with proper reasoning. A judge may “disqualify” themselves from a case if they were “a party to the proceeding” or “acting as a lawyer in the proceeding,” among other reasons listed in the code.