April 25, 2014

Elyria
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Documents from harassment lawsuit against judge to be unsealed

ELYRIA — The bulk of documents that were sealed from public view in the sexual harassment lawsuit against former Lorain County Domestic Relations Judge David Berta were ordered unsealed by a visiting judge Friday.

But the documents, which include motions for summary judgment and deposition transcripts, won’t be available until Feb. 1 under the conditions of former Summit County Judge Patricia Cosgrove’s order so that Berta’s attorneys can black out a limited number of areas that are covered under privacy laws.

Cosgrove initially had agreed to seal all of the documents after Berta’s lawyers requested it because the documents contained “identification, medical and/or professional information that is typically inappropriate for public dissemination.”

Lawyers for Lucinda McConnell, the former magistrate who has accused Berta of sexual harassment, argued that the order went too far, essentially sealing off whole documents that otherwise would have been public record to protect a small amount of information.

Cosgrove met with lawyers for McConnell, Berta and the county commissioners, who also are named as defendants in the lawsuit, for about an hour Friday before she announced her decision in open court.

She said there is a presumption that court records will be open for public inspection, but that must be balanced against laws protecting medical and identification information such as dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

“The mere fact that someone may be embarrassed by something that is public is not sufficient to restrict public access to documents,” Cosgrove said.

She also agreed that information dealing with professional issues — likely a reference to a bar grievance filed against Berta that didn’t result in formal disciplinary action — would remain confidential. She also said that information dealing with Berta’s previous employment out of state should remain under seal because it could potentially impact his employment.

Berta lost his re-election bid to current Domestic Relations Judge Lisa Swenski during the March Democratic primary. Swenski was unopposed in the November general election and took the bench earlier this month.

The lawsuit was filed just days before the primary and Berta said at the time he believed it was timed to damage him politically. He also has said the lawsuit is part of a vendetta against him by his former bailiff, James Maschari, who walked off the job in 2010.

Swenski has said she had nothing to do with the lawsuit and McConnell’s attorneys have denied politics played a role in the filing of the lawsuit.

McConnell quit her job in April 2011 and later filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which declined to take action.

The lawsuit accuses Berta of making sexually charged comments about McConnell, screaming at her and using disparaging language to describe other women, including those with cases pending before him.

Berta, who has returned to practicing law, has publicly denied wrongdoing.

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