April 17, 2014

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Cillo: No part in Burge inquiry

ELYRIA — Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Tony Cillo denied Friday that he or anyone else from county Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office was responsible for the ongoing Ohio Supreme Court Office of Disciplinary Counsel inquiry into county Common Pleas Judge James Burge.

Cillo’s denial came in court documents filed Friday as part of his effort to convince Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to bar Burge from handling cases Cillo is involved in. Cillo contends that Burge is biased against him.

Burge, however, has insisted that he has been fair with Cillo in the past and will continue to do so in the future. He also has placed the blame on Will’s office for the Disciplinary Counsel investigation, calling it “prosecutor-driven.”

Disciplinary Counsel inquiries are confidential and attorneys are forbidden by their code of conduct from discussing them. The Disciplinary Counsel has declined to even confirm if the office is investigating Burge.

But Burge told the Ohio Parole Board during a January hearing, in which he urged them to recommend clemency for Nancy Smith, that his handling of the controversial Head Start child molestation case was the subject of a Disciplinary Counsel review.

He said at the time that while he had delayed ordering Smith and her codefendant, Joseph Allen, back to prison because Jack Bradley, one of Smith’s attorneys, and Cillo had told him not to take any action until he heard from both of them. Cillo disputes that account, Burge has said.

Burge also has acknowledged that the inquiry goes beyond the Head Start case and a Disciplinary Counsel lawyer has obtained audio recordings of 10 days worth of the proceedings in Burge’s courtroom.

A day after Burge’s appearance before the Parole Board, Cillo asked him to remove himself from the considering whether death row inmate Stanley Jalowiec is entitled to a new trial. Jalowiec’s lawyers are arguing their client is an innocent man convicted for the 1994 slaying of police informant Ronald Lally because of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Cillo has argued that because he and Burge have a dispute over what happened in the Head Start case, it could have an impact in the Jalowiec case. Burge has said the two cases aren’t connected

One of Cillo’s chief arguments that Burge is unfair is that the judge allegedly told another assistant county prosecutor that he believed Jalowiec deserved a new trial. Burge has repeatedly denied that he’s made any sort of determination in the Jalowiec case. But Cillo wrote that Burge confronted the unidentified assistant prosecutor about the issue and told him he misunderstood.

“The Assistant Prosecutor never agreed with Judge Burge that he misunderstood what the judge had said,” Cillo wrote. “Importantly, the Assistant Prosecutor still maintains his recollection of the conversation as well as the statement Judge Burge made regarding the Jalowiec case.”

Cillo also wrote that Burge has previously not given him adequate time to prepare for cases, treated him unprofessionally in the courtroom and failed to allow him to offer arguments in cases.

Cillo also denied Burge’s suggestions that the effort to have him removed from Cillo’s cases is an effort to keep the judge from presiding over future death penalty cases, which Cillo handles for the prosecutor’s office.

That would be temporary, Cillo wrote, because additional assistant prosecutors are being trained to handle death penalty cases.

Cillo also rejected the idea that he would take on additional cases simply to keep Burge from hearing those cases.

“(I do) not believe that (my) request for recusal of Judge Burge will alter greatly the amount of criminal cases Judge Burge will hear, and (I do) not intend to involve (myself) in cases, other than those (I) would regularly be assigned, to actively seek Judge Burge’s disqualification,” Cillo wrote.

Burge said Friday that he stands by him previous comments that he can be fair to Cillo.

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