In re Disqualification of Williams-Byers.
Bickerstaff. South Euclid
Affidavit of Disqualification in South Euclid Municipal Court
Case No. TRD 1800233A.
1} Defendant Brenda Vernay Bickerstaff has filed an
affidavit with the clerk of this court pursuant to R.C.
2701.03 and 2701.031 seeking to disqualify Judge Gayle
Williams-Byers from presiding over any further proceedings in
the above-referenced case, now pending for resentencing.
2} The Eighth District Court of Appeals recently
found that Judge Williams-Byers abused her discretion in
sentencing Ms. Bickerstaff to five days in jail for failing
to display a front license plate. S. Euclid v.
Bickerstaff 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 107526,
2019-Ohio-2223, ¶ 16. The court of appeals remanded the
matter to Judge Williams-Byers to issue a new entry modifying
Ms. Bickerstaff s sentence. Id. at ¶ 27.
3} In her affidavit of disqualification, Ms.
Bickerstaff alleges that Judge Williams-Byers imposed the j
ail sentence in retaliation for a complaint filed by Ms.
Bickerstaff against the judge's magistrate. Ms.
Bickerstaff also alleges that the judge and the prosecutor
engaged in a conspiracy against her, and she believes that
Judge Williams-Byers will be unable to fairly resentence her
after the judge's "being reversed on appeal."
4} Judge Williams-Byers has filed a response to the
affidavit and denies that her initial sentence was the
product of bias or retaliation against Ms. Bickerstaff
5} For the reasons explained below, no basis has
been established to order the disqualification of Judge
6} First, the court-of-appeals decision is not
grounds for the judge's disqualification. It is
well-established that "[a] trial judge's opinions of
law, even if erroneous, are not by themselves evidence of
bias or prejudice" and that "a judge may preside
over the retrial of a case even if that judge's rulings
of law were reversed on appeal." In re
Disqualification of Kimmel, 36 Ohio St.3d 602, 522
N.E.2d 456 (1987). Further, the fact that a trial judge's
decision "was reversed in a critical opinion by the
appeals court does not imply that she will be biased against
[the appellants] or somehow retaliate against them."
In re Disqualification of Floyd, 135 Ohio St.3d
1249, 2012-Ohio-6336, 986 N.E.2d 10, ¶ 10. Here, the
appellate opinion indicates that Judge Williams-Byers became
frustrated with Ms. Bickerstaff s conduct during sentencing.
See S. Euclid, 2019-Ohio-2223, at ¶ 15. But the
appellate decision itself does not establish that the
judge's sentence was the product of bias against Ms.
7} Second, Ms. Bickerstaff has otherwise failed to
substantiate her allegations. Specifically, she failed to
submit a complete transcript of the sentencing hearing to
help prove her claim that the judge demonstrated bias and a
lack of judicial temperament at sentencing. And Ms.
Bickerstaff s retaliation and conspiracy allegations are
based entirely on speculation. It is well-settled that
"[allegations that are based solely on hearsay,
innuendo, and speculation-such as those alleged here-are
insufficient to establish bias or prejudice." In re
Disqualification of Flanagan, 127 Ohio St.3d 1236,
2009-Ohio-7199, 937 N.E.2d 1023, ¶ 4.
8} Finally, on remand, Judge Williams-Byers must
modify Ms. Bickerstaff s sentence in accordance with the
specific remand instructions from the court of appeals. To
the extent that the judge fails to comply with those
instructions, Ms. Bickerstaff may file an appeal. But based
on this record, there is no reason to question the
judge's ability to comply with that mandate. See,
e.g., Columbus v. Hayes, 68 Ohio App.3d 184, 189, 587
N.E.2d 939 (10th Dist.1990) (remanding for further
proceedings before a different municipal-court judge when the
original sentencing judge, after being reversed, had made it
clear that he did not intend to follow the mandate of the
appeals court by declaring that he would impose the same
sentence as before, even if he were reversed ten times);
In re Disqualification of Winkler, 135 Ohio St.3d
1271, 2013-Ohio-890, 986 N.E.2d 996 (disqualifying a judge
from resentencing a defendant when the judge's comments
at the original sentencing might reasonably cause an
objective observer to question whether the judge would be
able to fairly weigh any arguments that the defendant may
offer at resentencing).
9} The affidavit of disqualification is denied.
Resentencing may ...