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State ex rel Rogers v. Marshall

November 24, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harsha, J.


{¶1} Attorney General Nancy Rogers has filed a complaint for a writ of prohibition alleging that Judge William T. Marshall lacked jurisdiction to grant a Civ.R. 60(B) motion to vacate a judgment filed by Adrian L. Rawlins in a separate criminal proceeding.*fn1 Despite Judge Marshall's and Rawlins' assertions to the contrary, Attorney General Rogers has common law standing to protect the state of Ohio's interest in the administration of justice and can pursue this action. And, because Judge Marshall patently and unambiguously lacked jurisdiction to entertain the motion after we had expressly ruled in Rawlins' direct appeal on the same issue the motion presented, we grant the writ.

{¶2} In 1997, a jury found Rawlins guilty of murder with a firearm specification and the trial court sentenced him to fifteen years to life imprisonment. Rawlins appealed his conviction to this court, assigning as error the trial court's refusal to give jury instructions on the lesser included offenses of involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, and the exclusion of the testimony of a psychiatric expert. In December 1998, we specifically rejected these arguments and affirmed Rawlins' conviction. See State v. Rawlins (Dec. 24, 1998), Scioto App. No. 97CA2539, 1998 WL 961056. The Supreme Court of Ohio did not review the case.

{¶3} In May 2003, Rawlins filed a motion in the criminal case for relief from judgment under Crim.R. 57(B) and Civ.R. 60(B). The state filed its opposition to the motion, but the trial court did not rule on the motion in either 2003 or 2004. After a request by Rawlins in January 2005, newly elected Judge Marshall scheduled a hearing on the motion.*fn2

{¶4} At the hearing, Rawlins sought relief from his conviction based on his claim that the jury should have been given instructions on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The state did not object to Rawlins' Civ.R. 60(B) motion at the hearing. In spite of our prior contrary ruling, which became law of the case on this issue, Judge Marshall granted Rawlins' motion with the understanding that Rawlins was going to enter into a negotiated plea. Rawlins then pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and Judge Marshall sentenced him to a prison term of ten years. Immediately after sentencing him, Judge Marshall granted Rawlins judicial release and placed him on probation.

{¶5} Shortly thereafter, the attorney general filed a complaint for a writ of prohibition alleging that Judge Marshall lacked jurisdiction to grant Rawlins' motion for relief from judgment, and ultimately to release him from prison. On October 10, 2006, we granted the writ and ordered Judge Marshall to vacate his entry granting Rawlins' Civ.R. 60(B) motion and related relief, including his acceptance of the guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter.

{¶6} In response to our entry, Rawlins filed a motion to intervene as a respondent and a motion for relief from judgment under Civ.R. 60(B) seeking to vacate the writ. We granted the motion to intervene and ordered the parties to respond to the motion for relief from judgment. Rawlins filed a notice of appeal from the October 10, 2006 entry in the Supreme Court of Ohio but also filed a motion for a limited remand so we could rule on his motion for relief from judgment. After the Supreme Court of Ohio granted the motion for a limited remand, we granted the motion for relief from judgment and vacated the writ. We then allowed all parties to submit additional evidence, file briefs and participate in oral argument.


{¶7} Before turning to the merits of Attorney General Rogers' complaint, we must address Judge Marshall and Rawlins' contention that Attorney General Rogers lacks standing to bring this action. If the relator lacks standing, we are duty bound to dismiss the complaint. See, e.g., Cleveland ex rel. O'Malley v. White, 148 Ohio App.3d 564, 2002-Ohio-3633, 774 N.E.2d 337, at ¶47.

{¶8} In State ex rel. Matasy v. Morley (1986), 25 Ohio St.3d 22, 23, 494 N.E.2d 1146, 1147, the Supreme Court of Ohio explained the criteria for standing:

* * * a prohibition action may only be commenced by a person who is either a party to the proceeding sought to be prohibited * * * or demonstrates an injury in fact to a legally protected interest.

Attorney General Rogers was clearly not a named party to the proceedings below and, therefore, does not meet the first prong of the test. Although she does not explicitly argue that she has suffered any injury to a legally protected interest as a result of Judge Marshall's actions, Attorney General Rogers does contend that she is attempting to protect the interest of the state of Ohio in her capacity as the chief law enforcement officer for the state. Attorney General Rogers alleges that she has standing both as a citizen and at common law. We consider these assertions.

A. Citizen Standing

{¶9} Attorney General Rogers contends that she has standing as an Ohio citizen to bring this action. Attorney General Rogers relies on the Supreme Court of Ohio's holding in State ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward, 86 Ohio St.3d 451, 1999-Ohio-123, 715 N.E.2d 1062, at paragraph one of the syllabus, to support her contention.

{¶10} In Sheward, the Supreme Court applied a "public action" exception to the traditional standing rule, and allowed several Ohio organizations and a private individual to challenge the constitutionality of comprehensive tort reform legislation by an action in mandamus. The Court recognized that in the context of a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute, when issues "sought to be litigated are of great importance and interest to the public, they may be resolved in a form of action that involves no rights or obligations peculiar to named parties." Id. at 471. However, the Court also made clear that it would "entertain a public action only 'in the rare and extraordinary case' where the challenged statute operates, 'directly and broadly, to divest the courts of judicial power.'" Id. at 504.

{¶11} We reject the attorney general's arguments for standing based upon Sheward for several reasons. First, Attorney General Rogers is not attempting to challenge the constitutionality of a statute. Rather, she complains that Judge Marshall ignored the doctrine of law of the case. Given the widespread criticism that Sheward has generated, see, e.g., Chief Justice Moyer's catalogue of critical commentaries and opinions in his dissent in State ex rel. Ohio AFL-CIO v. Ohio Bureau of Workers' Comp., 97 Ohio St.3d 504, 2002-Ohio-6717, 780 N.E.2d 981, at ¶56 et seq., and the Sheward majority's own insistence that it be used only in rare and extraordinary circumstances, we decline to expand it to this scenario.

{ΒΆ12} Beyond the fact there is no constitutional challenge upon which to append the Sheward exception, Judge Marshall's decision -- however erroneous -- does not have the widespread effect on the citizenry as a whole that is required to invoke the "public action" exception. Although this case may determine the very important question of whether a criminal conviction can be overturned by a trial court on the same grounds an appellate court has previously rejected, we are not faced with any constitutional questions nor will our decision alleviate any widespread problems in the judicial system. In fact, the events in this case are highly unusual and may never be repeated again. The mere fact that a party seeks to raise a significant legal issue is not sufficient to warrant application of this very limited exception to the standing requirement. Rather, courts should utilize this rare exception only where the issue would have a widespread or substantial effect upon the public as a whole, and would result in serious ...

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