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Public defender convicted following officer’s explicit testimony of car tryst

By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Akron public defender Catherine Loya (left) faces drunken driving charges in Barberton Municipal Court on Thursday. Loya listens as Copley Police Officer Tom Ballinger gives testimony of the arrest. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

A Copley Township police officer testified Thursday in explicit detail about a drunken sexual encounter he says he interrupted last winter between a public defender and an Akron municipal judge.

Patrolman Thomas Ballinger told jurors in Barberton Municipal Court that Judge Joy Malek Oldfield was in the back seat of a small SUV parked outside a Ridgewood Road strip mall at 1:45 a.m.

Ballinger said that as he walked closer to the vehicle, the women moved with haste.

“I looked in the car and [Oldfield], the person I observed with her legs bent and laying with her back against the back seat, pulled her pants up from mid thigh and pulled down her blouse,” Ballinger told jurors.

Once dressed, Oldfield, 36, then moved from the back to the front passenger seat and looked out her window, he said. Assistant public defender Catherine Loya, 31, meanwhile, struggled to get into the driver’s seat and at one point, the officer said, Oldfield aided Loya by pulling on her leg.

Both women avoided eye contact with him, Ballinger said.

The details fortified what Ballinger wrote in his report in February. They were also his first public words about what he saw.

It was an encounter the judge’s attorney challenged for its veracity, particularly the allegations that Oldfield, who is married and the mother of two young girls, was partially clothed with Loya, whose caseload was assigned to the judge’s court.

But the testimony was enough for eight jurors. After Thursday’s one-day trial, the jury convicted Loya on a misdemeanor charge of having physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Loya will be sentenced Oct. 15 by Judge Christine Croce. Loya and her attorney, Edward Bonetti, declined comment after the verdict. Loya faces a maximum jail sentence of 180 days.

It took a seven-woman, one-man jury about 30 minutes to reach its verdict. Foreperson Anna Daum of Barberton said the panel was simply in quick agreement. They believed Ballinger’s testimony and said Loya hurt herself by not agreeing to take a sobriety test at the time of her arrest.

Daum said the panel briefly talked about the alleged sexual encounter between Oldfield and Loya and agreed it was “kind of embarrassing” to speak about.

“[They should] do it behind closed doors,” Daum said.

Question prompts transfer

Loya was assigned to Oldfield’s court before the Feb. 5 incident and continued to defend indigent defendants in the courtroom for weeks afterward. It wasn’t until chief public defender Joseph Kodish was questioned by the Beacon Journal about the potential conflict of interest that he transferred Loya to Judge Jerry Larson’s courtroom.

Ironically, Larson’s bailiff, Jonathan Groza, and Groza’s girlfriend, Kellie McGill, testified Thursday about Loya’s activities during a dinner party at their Fairlawn home in the hours leading up to her arrest. Both said Loya drank only ice water and did not appear drunk when she and the judge left together around 1:15 a.m.

Charles Oldfield, the judge’s husband, also testified that Loya was not drinking when he left the party about midnight. He said Judge Oldfield wanted to stay at the party longer, so he asked Loya to drive his wife home. He said Judge Oldfield had consumed a couple of glasses of wine.

Judge Oldfield, who took office in January, was not called as a witness and has declined several requests to discuss her version of the events. John Hill, an Akron attorney who acted as Oldfield’s spokesman, said in a March interview that the judge was “dumbfounded and incredibly upset” about Ballinger’s account and said his report “is not accurate, it is not true.”

A review of the case by Copley police Chief Michael Mier found the officer’s work truthful and determined that politics did not influence Ballinger.

The incident between the judge and Loya was referred to the Akron Bar Association for a disciplinary investigation. No one from the bar has commented on the status.

Officer recounts incident

Ballinger, an officer for eight years, testified that he was conducting normal patrol duties around the Ridgewood Crossing shopping plaza after a break-in at the Old Carolina Barbecue a week earlier.

He said Loya’s vehicle was parked on the eastern end of the plaza lot, its lights were on and the engine was running. At first, he didn’t know who was inside the car or what their intentions were.

He determined the car occupants were “parkers,” a phrase police use for people who stop to park and talk or make out, he said. He then maneuvered his car and turned his spotlight on the vehicle and saw a head-popping motion, the judge fixing her clothes and both women moving to the front.

Ballinger was joined by Patrolman Darrell Garner, and both men testified under questioning from special prosecutor Page C. Schrock that they smelled alcohol inside the vehicle. The smell followed Loya as she was ordered out of the car. The officers said Loya’s eyes were glassy and bloodshot, her breath smelled of alcohol and she was unsteady on her feet.

She refused to perform any sobriety tests and was arrested. After Loya was processed, Garner drove the judge and Loya to the Oldfield residence about a mile away.

Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or ptrexler@thebeaconjournal.com.



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