Butler County judge will recuse himself from some sex cases because of family incident

A Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge said this week that he will recuse himself from certain types of sex cases after an admission that an incident 10 years ago involving a family member may have influenced his sentencing of a defendant in a similar case.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said his office is searching through sex crime cases assigned to Judge Charles Pater in the past 10 years and informing both attorneys and defendants of Pater’s initial recusal for bias from a re-sentencing of a sex case after an October discussion in chambers.

In a letter sent by email Tuesday, Pater said he will recuse himself in the future from similar sex cases.

“I decided that it would be best if I were to recuse from presiding over cases in which male defendants are charged with forcible rape of females in their teens and early twenties. These cases are a small percentage of the sex offense cases typically indicted and tried in the court of common pleas. I see no reason, generally speaking, to recuse from any other type of sex offense,” Pater wrote.

The case that first spurred Pater to admit the possible influence involved Dustin Lawrence, who was convicted following a jury trial of gross sexual imposition, rape, kidnapping and domestic violence in 2017 and was sentenced to 33 years in prison by Pater.

During a motion to have his sentence reconsidered by the judge based on mistakes made in the pre-sentence investigation report regarding Lawrence’s criminal history, Pater said he was going to agree to the re-sentencing in part because a personal situation in his family might have caused him to be too harsh in his sentence, according to prosecutors.

Pater agreed to recuse himself from re-sentencing based on his statements.

“The state believes it has a legal and ethical duty to inform you of this recusal,” Gmoser wrote in a letter to defense attorneys.

Gmoser told the Journal-News that, “The family occurrence occurred 10 years ago, so we have a 10-year period of time when potentially the judge, by his admission, has harbored a bias with respect to these types of cases therefore under those circumstances … I am required to go back through those cases and sent letters to the attorneys and defendants.”

Pater said in an interview with the Journal-News that when the case came back to him for post conviction relief he told the prosecutor’s office appellate division and the appellate attorney in chambers he had rethought the sentence.

“I indicated that there was something else mulling around in my brain and that was I had had thoughts since the sentencing that the sentence was perhaps too high, too stiff, too many years,” Pater said “That wasn’t the driving factor (for the re-sentencing) but the fact that there were legal problems did give me a opportunity to reassess that length of time that I gave him.”

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