April 17, 2014

Elyria
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Judge, prosecutor end spat

Burge says Cillo has ‘clean slate,’ won’t hold him in contempt

ELYRIA — County Common Pleas Judge James Burge backed off from holding Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo in contempt Thursday, saying he wasn’t sure Cillo was responsible for the motion that offended him.

After Burge withdrew his contempt charge, Cillo apologized for referring to the judge’s May decision to reduce the
23-year prison sentence of Thomas Holmes, who was convicted of hitting his wife in the head with a hammer, to six years as “sheer lunacy.”

“I did let my emotions get the better of me on that day,” Cillo said.

CHUCK HUMEL / CHRONICLE

Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo (right) apologized for remarks he made.

Burge told Cillo that he accepted his apology and later said Cillo has a “clean slate” with him.

The judge held Cillo in contempt last month after Cillo submitted a motion opposing merging anti-death penalty motions in the cases of Ronald McCloud and Ruben Rivera that said if the judge linked the two cases, he would be deliberately “sandbagging” the state’s efforts to seek the death penalty against the two accused killers.

Burge also complained at a hearing earlier this week that Cillo routinely had been disrespectful toward him in and out of the courtroom, citing the “sheer lunacy” comment as well as other instances he said showed a pattern of problematic behavior.

But Burge said Thursday that the motion Cillo had signed and submitted probably wasn’t written by Cillo, but by another assistant county prosecutor based on what he had heard around the courthouse.

“I had enough doubt about the authorship of the pleading that I had profound reservations,” he said after the hearing. “… Since I felt Mr. Cillo was remaining silent in order to shoulder the blame for someone else, I did not feel it was fair to proceed with the matter.”

Cillo could have faced jail and fines if Burge — who said he respected Cillo for protecting a co-worker — had kept the contempt charge in place.

Cillo declined to comment after the hearing, but county Prosecutor Dennis Will said the matter is over to him. Will said he doesn’t know who wrote the phrase that offended Burge, but ultimately it was his responsibility because he reviewed the motion before Cillo signed and submitted it.

“Sometimes in the heat of battle, people say things, and sometimes, people misconstrue things, but we’re going to move forward,” Will said.

Burge said at Thursday’s hearing that Will doesn’t have as much experience in litigation as some of his assistant prosecutors and might not have realized that there was a problem with the motion.

Prosecutors had argued that Burge shouldn’t even decide Cillo’s fate because he had already made up his mind that Cillo had crossed the line. Burge on Monday asked that another judge make the final determination, but Administrative Judge Edward Zaleski returned the matter to Burge a day later, saying it was up to Burge to decide what was and wasn’t contempt in his courtroom.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.