December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Case data sealed in harassment suit against county judge

ELYRIA — A visiting judge has sealed portions of the case file in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Lorain County Domestic Relations Judge David Berta.

Berta

Former Summit County Judge Patricia Cosgrove, who is handling the lawsuit, sealed deposition transcripts, exhibits and a motion for summary judgment in the case at the request of Berta’s attorneys, and she did so despite the objections of lawyers for Lucinda McConnell, the former magistrate suing Berta.

Berta attorney Kimberly Riley wrote in her request to seal the transcripts of McConnell, Berta and Jim Maschari, Berta’s former bailiff, that the depositions “contain identification, medical, and/or professional information that is typically inappropriate for public dissemination.”

“To protect the confidential nature of that information, Judge Berta moves to file those transcripts under seal to avoid their exposure to the public docket,” Riley wrote.

The motion for summary judgment, which asks that the case against Berta be thrown out, relies heavily on the same information, Riley wrote. Because the motion is sealed, Berta’s arguments for having the case dropped cannot be reviewed by anyone not directly involved in the lawsuit.

Riley declined to provide further explanation in an emailed response to a request for comment.

“I can’t respond to your question without potentially interfering with the court’s order,” she wrote.

Caryn Groedel, McConnell’s lawyer, said Tuesday that she intends to ask Cosgrove to reconsider her decision. She said there wasn’t a good reason to seal portions of the file.

“It just prevents the public from knowing the behavior of this man who was a judge in their county for years,” Groedel said.

Berta lost his re-election bid in the Democratic primary in March to Lorain attorney Lisa Swenski, who was unopposed in the general election last month. Swenski will take over for Berta early next year.

McConnell’s lawsuit was filed just days before the election, timing Berta claimed showed that McConnell and Swenski were working together. Swenski and McConnell’s lawyers have denied there was any such collaboration.

Berta has denied the allegations leveled against him by McConnell, who abruptly quit her job in April 2011. The lawsuit contends that Berta, who took office in 2007, made sexually disparaging comments about McConnell both in her presence and in front of others.

He also allegedly screamed at McConnell, including one instance outlined in the lawsuit that said he flipped over a table. The lawsuit also said Berta referred to his female staff members and women with cases in his court as “whores” and “stupid (expletive).”

Berta has accused Maschari, one of the chief witnesses against him, of pursuing a vendetta. Maschari walked off the job in March 2010 after an argument with the judge over his late return from lunch.

McConnell originally filed a complaint against Berta with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which declined to take action against the judge.

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