COLUMBUS — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge said Tuesday that his handling of the Head Start child molestation case is being reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Burge’s admission that he is the subject of a confidential inquiry came during his appearance before the Ohio Parole Board to back Nancy Smith’s efforts to win the board’s support for her clemency request when he was asked why he hasn’t ordered Smith and her co-defendant, Joseph Allen, back to prison.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that Burge had overstepped his authority to acquit Smith and left in place a lower appeals court decision overturning his decision to acquit Allen.
Technically, Burge said, he should have ordered both Smith and Allen back to prison. Smith was serving a 30-to-90-year prison sentence when Burge freed her in 2009. Allen received five consecutive life sentences after he and Smith were convicted during a 1994 trial.
But Burge said Jack Bradley, Smith’s longtime attorney, and Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo came to see him in his chambers and asked him to hold off taking any action until he heard from both of them.
Based on his view that Smith and Allen are innocent, the judge said he didn’t argue with the request, but he also said that he’s since learned indirectly that Cillo disputes that account.
“I have been told by the Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel that Mr. Cillo denies having said that to me,” Burge said.
Cillo declined to comment Tuesday. Bradley did not return a call seeking comment.
Rick Dove, secretary to the Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, said Tuesday that there is no disciplinary action pending against Burge.
But he also said that if an inquiry were under way against any attorney, it would be considered confidential unless a formal complaint was brought after the completion of an investigation.
Burge told the Parole Board that he also held off taking any action because of the clemency efforts and he believes county Prosecutor Dennis Will, who did not return a call seeking comment, hasn’t pushed the issue for similar reasons.
Burge didn’t say who had complained to the Disciplinary Counsel about him or if the inquiry dealt with any other issues.
When he was asked how the Disciplinary Counsel came to be involved, he said only that someone had told them he hadn’t taken action to return Smith and Allen to prison.
Burge declined to comment further about the inquiry after the Parole Board hearing.
He told the Parole Board that if Gov. John Kasich were to reject clemency, he would have no choice but to send Smith and Allen back to prison and also classify them as sexual offenders.
Assistant County Prosecutor Richard Gronsky told the Parole Board that if Kasich rejects clemency and Burge doesn’t order Smith and Allen to be locked up, prosecutors or Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office would have to take legal action against the judge to compel him to do so.
Will has said he doesn’t oppose commuting Smith’s sentence to time served but is against a full pardon.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.