April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Judge Burge says he has no personal bias against Anthony Cillo

ELYRIA — Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Tony Cillo hasn’t produced enough evidence to prove that Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge is biased against him, Burge wrote in court documents filed Monday.

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Cillo

Cillo has asked Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to bar Burge from handling any case Cillo is involved with, including death penalty cases Cillo handles as the county’s chief criminal assistant prosecutor.

For instance, Burge wrote that just because he and Cillo have disagreements over their recollections doesn’t mean that he can’t be fair to Cillo.

The two men have sparred over whether Burge told another assistant county prosecutor that he had already made up his mind to grant convicted killer Stanley Jalowiec a new trial based on allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

“Cillo now alleges that the judge’s refusal to agree that he made the statement about the new trial is the equivalent of calling Cillo a liar,” Burge wrote. “Judge Burge disagrees with the rationale that would require the judge either to: 1) admit to saying something that he did not say; or 2) be accused of calling Cillo a liar.”

In his court filing, Burge, a former defense attorney, also wrote that just because he once had an adversarial relationship with Cillo doesn’t mean he’s brought that with him onto the bench.

“Judge Burge stated in his first response that he has no personal bias against Cillo, and speculative allegations to the contrary are not enough to require that the judge disqualify himself,” Burge wrote.

Burge also defended his decision to halt the practice of making audio recordings of the proceedings in his courtroom, something Cillo has written could allow Burge to retaliate against him because he doesn’t believe Burge’s court reporter, Tracy Reiman, takes down everything Burge says on the record.

The judge barred the recordings earlier this year after the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel requested 10 days worth of recordings from Burge’s courtroom. That request appears to be part of an ongoing and confidential inquiry into Burge that also deals with how he handled the controversial Head Start child molestation case.

But Burge insists that the decision has nothing to do with the Disciplinary Counsel investigation. Rather, he wrote, there are concerns that if someone doesn’t speak loud enough the recording equipment will not pick up everything said in the courtroom. He also has concerns that private conversations between attorneys and their clients or off the record conversations between a judge and attorneys are being recorded.

Five of the county’s six other General Division judges also have halted the practice, Burge wrote.

Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery said he stopped recording proceedings in his courtroom because of concerns about having a dual record, one prepared by a professional court reporter and another an audio recording that may only pick up certain things that are said.

But Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski said he will continue to record everything that transpires in his courtroom.

He said he disagrees with another concern raised by his fellow judges that the recordings are a public record and thus can be requested by the public — something that would require redacting private conversations.

“In my mind this idea that we might be creating more public records wasn’t a concern for me because I’ve always thought that was an inappropriate concern for any public official,” Betleski said.

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