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Petralia v. Petralia - 2003-Ohio-3867 (Ct. App.)

Rule:

An appellate court has no jurisdiction to vacate a trial court's judgment on a claim of judicial bias. 

Facts:

On August 2, 1999, appellant father filed a motion for modification of child support for his three minor children, which argued that there had been a substantial change in his employment. The father had been employed as an insurance agent for the Independent Order of Foresters (IFO). Beginning in 1995, it was discovered that certain high-ranking officials of IFO were engaging in illicit behavior. This resulted in substantial negative publicity for IFO, which, in turn, caused a significant decrease in appellant's salary as a commissioned insurance agent. Appellant left his position with IFO in April or May 1995, and became an independent agent, which proved unsuccessful. Appellant then opened his own construction business, which caused a decrease in appellant's income. The magistrate modified appellant's child support obligation from $316.67 per month, per child, to $275.68 per month, per child. In September 1999, appellant was indicted on four felony charges and subsequently pled guilty and was sentenced to five years' incarceration. Appellant began serving his sentence October 23, 2000. He moved to modify his child support obligation once again. The magistrate issued a decision on November 30, 2001, denying appellant's motion. The magistrate found that the evidence presented dealt with circumstances in existence before the November 2, 1999, hearing and therefore, appellant was barred from re-litigating these issues. It held that the only difference between his earlier and later motions was that, at the latest hearing, appellant father presented, and the court considered, newspaper articles showing the extent of the negative publicity generated relating to the illicit behavior of certain employees of the father's business. However, all of the articles were dated prior to the date of the hearing on the first motion. The appellant appealed and sought disqualification of the judge.

Issue:

Was the denial of his second motion for modification of support proper?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The judgment of the trial court was affirmed. The appellate court held that it had no jurisdiction to vacate the trial court's judgment on a claim of judicial bias. Nevertheless, the court added that nothing in the record indicated that the trial court judge exhibited bias toward the father. The trial court properly applied the doctrine of res judicata. It also held that the trial court did not exclude the father's exhibits and therefore, there could be no finding of bias.

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