Law professor doubles as judge
Published: Thursday, October 15, 2009
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 01:06
The Ohio State University aims to reach international levels of recognition and Algenon L. Marbley, the United States district court judge and Ohio State University Board of Trustees member from North Carolina, plans to deliver on a promise he made to the board.
"OSU is on the trajectory of becoming a leader of higher learning with 400,000 alumni spread throughout the world," Marbley, who is also an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Ohio State's Moritz College of Law, said. "It is my utmost priority to the board that I provide my judicial perspective as the only judge currently serving with the board."
Marbley, appointed in November 1997 to the Southern District of Ohio by President Bill Clinton, grew up in a legally segregated South during the civil rights movement.
"When I saw those lawyers in North Carolina effectuate change," Marbley said, "I knew I had to follow my passion into the judiciary because I saw the effects the Jim Crow laws had on my tight-knit community," Marbley said. "After 20 years of work experience, this is absolutely the best job in the planet because I am involved with the federal court and I can initiate justice to those who deserve it."
Marbley is one of the most powerful and important policy makers at OSU. He has been a Board of Trustees member since 2007, when Gov. Ted Strickland appointed him to the position for a nine-year term.
Marbley garnered national attention in August 2008 for his ruling in a $1.9 billion fraud case that resulted in the sentencing of Donald Ayers to prison for 15 years. Ayers was the former chief operating officer with National Century Financial Enterprises. Federal prosecutors compared the case to the Enron and WorldCom cases because of its white-collar criminal proceedings.
"It is difficult to single out any one case that I find most memorable, but this would be one of the top five in recent years," Marbley said.
Also indicted was Randolph Speer, the company's former chief financial officer, who is serving a 12-year prison sentence. Marbley also ordered the men to repay billions of dollars to investors.
"Your avarice, your arrogance and your hubris led to your demise," Marbley told Ayers in court. "You could have operated in a legitimate fashion ... but you chose not to."
In another case that received national attention, a jury determined that city officials discriminated against 67 residents living in a predominately African-American neighborhood just beyond the Zanesville city limits by failing to supply the residents with public water service.
"This decision speaks firmly about the importance of treating citizens with equal respect, regardless of race," said Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, according to a press release issued from her office in July 2008. "We are pleased that relief was provided to those who suffered as the result of discrimination."
The jury determined that the city and county violated state and federal civil-rights laws, awarding about $10 million in damages to the plaintiffs.
"This case really hit close to home for me," Marbley said. "After coming from an upbringing in which segregation dominated my view of thinking, I found this case to be extremely powerful in defining my reasons for being involved with the judiciary."
In 2004, Marbley was criticized for his possible infringement on freedom of speech rights. According to The Columbus Dispatch, a Westerville man had written an e-mail to Marbley condemning his ruling in a class-action lawsuit worth millions of dollars. His first three words to Marbley in the full-page e-mail infuriated the judge: "You f---ed up!"
Marbley called the man, Robert Dalton, to court.
"As an articulate man, you could have found another way to express yourself," Marbley said to Dalton. Marbley did not pursue a criminal contempt charge that carries up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Now deceased Benson Wolman, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio, praised Marbley as a top judge, but said he was mistaken in this case.
"To criticize, even in unacceptable language, I think cannot be punished under the First Amendment," Wolman said. Ordering a critic into court to explain his actions under the threat of punishment "can have a chilling effect on free speech," he said.
When asked about his thoughts on this incident, Marbley said he does not understand why he received so much media scrutiny. He said this case was one out of many and that it does not define the types of cases he generally works on.
"No good deed goes unpunished," Marbley said. "I was not going to incarcerate him but I wanted to him to realize that he should have been respectful."
Outside of the courtroom, some believe Marbley has a more important role as a trustee at OSU.
"The board is a very collegial group of individuals, and we all vary in our types of expertise," Marbley said. "We agree to be disagreeable, and we could not have a better chairman or staff."
On the board, Marbley is a member of two committees, including a position as vice chair for the Medical Center Affairs committee.
"Currently I am working on Project One, which entails the building of a new hospital," Marbley said. "We are beginning construction the summer of 2010, and it should be completed by 2014."
This hospital will be an addition to the Ohio State University Medical Center and will expand the building's mainframe.
Marbley is also on the Academic and Student Affairs board, which is currently in the process of reforming aspects of student life at OSU, he said.
"We want to make the student experience one that will enhance the education a student receives, as well as the culture," Marbley said. "When students leave Ohio State, we want them to be tolerant of others and perform well.
"Our main focus of that meeting in regards to student housing is that we want freshman and sophomores to remain in the dorms. We think this will significantly impact the experience students have because it initiates a situation in which one will step outside of their comfort level."