MEDINA — A mother accused of trying to smother her 6-year-old son had her case transferred Thursday because of a petition she emailed to the judge.
Medina County Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler said he was concerned he’d be accused of impropriety because he’d been receiving emails for weeks concerning an online petition to acquit Terry J. Boyle, 32, of Medina.
Kimbler said he wasn’t sure what the emails were at first, but opened one up and saw her petition.
“If you think people signing a petition on some website you created will influence me,” Kimbler told Boyle at her Thursday arraignment, “you are sadly mistaken.”
He said that kind of communication could be considered “ex parte,” an improper legal proceeding where one party speaks to a judge about a case without the other parties present.
“I’m confident I could remain impartial,” Kimbler said, “but I’m not taking the chance that my integrity or that of this court could be questioned.”
Boyle’s case will be heard instead by Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier. Her arraignment is scheduled for Monday.
“In my 28 years on the bench, I’ve never had a defendant do this,” Kimbler said.
The petition, titled “Justice for Terry Boyle” on www.change.org, had gathered more than 80 signatures from Boyle’s friends and family before it was closed Thursday afternoon. In the petition, Boyle said she wrongly was accused of attempting to murder and feloniously assaulting of her son.
“I have never been in trouble and I sure the heck am not going to harm my kids,” Boyle wrote.
If convicted, Boyle could face 11 or more years in prison.
Law professors said they’ve never heard of a defendant petitioning a judge for acquittal.
Gary Spring, a law professor at the University of Akron, said Kimbler probably acted wisely because of the “appearance of impropriety standard.” Under that ethical standard, he said judges must be wary of situations where they could appear unfair — even if they’re unbiased.
It’s an issue, he said, because the judge would be making decisions with more information than what’s presented in court.
“I think the judge made the right decision,” Spring said.
Case Western Reserve University law professor Cassandra Robertson agreed.
“Judges have a wide responsibility to the public,” she said. “If it’s not actually improper, but people think it could be, there could be a problem.”
She said this sort of activity is becoming more common because the Internet makes information so easily broadcast and accessible.
“I think we’re going to be seeing more of this in the future,” she said.
Boyle, of 516 N. State Road, Apt. N7, was arrested after her counselor at Alternative Paths, a behavioral health care clinic in Medina, called police July 18 to say Boyle said she felt “homicidal” toward her son, according to reports.
Alternative Paths CEO Gale Houk said that’s standard procedure.
“Counselors and social workers are mandated reporters,” Houk said, “so under Ohio law, they need to report any instances of possible abuse.”
On the petition, Boyle said she put a couch pillow over her son’s head “for a split second” earlier that day to stop him fighting with his 4-year-old sister.
Police reported they took Boyle to Medina Hospital, where she underwent psychological evaluation. She said she spent 2½ days in a psych ward and then two weeks at the county jail.
Boyle said police illegally questioned her because she was on prescribed medications that “mess with her mind.”
She said she hasn’t seen her children since police arrested her.
“I guess it’s a crime now to cry out for help,” she wrote.
The judge told Boyle the petition may have been a mistake because county Prosecutor Dean Holman now can use it as evidence against her.
“Not only have you ticked me off,” Kimbler said, “but you’ve put your lawyer in a very tough position.”
Her attorney, John G. Quillin, could not be reached for comment.
Boyle is free on 10 percent of a $500,000 bond.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.