HOT SPRINGS -- Garland County Circuit Judge Ralph Ohm said holding a campaign sign for his friend in last November's Hot Springs mayoral race was a mistake, telling the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission that his conduct was a lapse in judgment.
The informal letter of adjustment the commission issued Ohm in March said holding the sign violated the Judicial Code of Conduct. Rule 4.1 prohibits judges from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for any public office. The commission said Ohm self-reported the activity and "cooperated fully and acknowledged the truth of the allegations."
According to the letter, he held a sign for a mayoral candidate at a busy intersection the week before the Nov. 8 election. Ohm said he contacted the commission after a reporter from The Sentinel-Record asked him Nov. 3 if he had been holding a sign for Eric Capaci, a candidate for mayor, at the intersection of Grand and Central avenues.
The question was asked after reports of Ohm holding the sign appeared on social media.
"Eric Capaci is one of my very best friends in all the world," Ohm said Thursday. "I don't think there's any secret about that. I encouraged him to stand at the corner of Grand and Central, which is something I've done for every election I've been involved in.
"Every contested campaign I've had, I've spent a ton of time on that street corner. It's a great way to see a lot of people in a small amount of time."
Ohm said he held the sign to show Capaci where to stand and how to get noticed.
"You have the left-turn lane," he said. "You have the people coming up behind you. You have the people turning on the other side. You've got to stay off the road, but you've got the parks and trails department telling you to stay off the flowers.
"I said 'If you meet me out there, I'll show you how to do it.' I met him at 8:30 [a.m.]. I had a hearing at 9. I left at 8:45. It was no more than five minutes that I had a sign in my hand, and that was just to show him how to do it."
Ohm said he distanced himself from Capaci's campaign, avoiding fundraising events and rallies, but could see how holding the sign could be viewed as an endorsement. The informal letter of adjustment noted that Ohm had no history of misconduct.
"You won't find any complaints against me of any inappropriate conduct," he said. "I try to do the right thing. I'm a pretty low-key guy. You'll never see me out at any bars. You'll never see me out doing stupid stuff. The only thing I did was to try and help my friend, to show him what to do, then left.
"Thinking back on it, should I have done that? No. I probably shouldn't have. I could've done it without holding the sign. I got caught up in the moment."
According to Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission's news release, a letter of informal adjustment is a response to conduct that merits discipline but that doesn't rise to a level that warrants formal discipline.
"The purpose is to inform the respondent judge of an issue of concern, remind a justice or judge of ethical obligations, recommend changes in behavior or procedures, or suggest an appearance of impropriety that could be avoided," the release said.
Ohm said to his knowledge, no complaint was filed. The letter was solely the result of him contacting the commission. The commission said a complaint can't be disclosed under its rules of procedure, which shields most documents related to the alleged misconduct or disability of a judge.
The commission cited the open records law exemption for documents protected from disclosure by order or rule of the court when the newspaper asked if a complaint had been filed or reported.