July 28, 2014

Elyria
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Visiting judge heading Burge grand jury will take over court docket

ELYRIA — The same visiting judge presiding over a special grand jury hearing evidence of possible criminal wrongdoing by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge will take over Burge’s criminal court docket Monday.

Burge has been barred by the Ohio Supreme Court from handling cases involving county Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office while the state’s high court reviews a request from Will to make the ban permanent.

Retired county Common Pleas Judge Edward Zaleski was brought in to handle Burge’s criminal docket Friday and had originally been under the impression he would do so until the Supreme Court reached a decision on Will’s affidavit of disqualification against Burge.

Will has accused Burge of being biased against his office, sexually harassing and intimidating prosecutors, seeking a county job for his wife and making racist comments.

Zaleski said he learned that retired Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Dale Crawford would be taking over after he completed work Friday, a move that surprised him given the role Crawford is playing in the criminal investigation into Burge.

“It seems like there might be a conflict there,” Zaleski said. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem right.”

Crawford was appointed in December to oversee the special grand jury and any case that results from the evidence presented to it.

Will requested that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office conduct an investigation into allegations of criminal misconduct by Burge based on the concerns of another sitting judge.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel also is conducting a confidential inquiry into Burge’s behavior.

Burge, who has denied wrongdoing, said he has “every confidence” in Crawford running his courtroom on a temporary basis.

Will said he doesn’t really see a potential conflict at this point. He said judges routinely preside over grand juries and criminal cases.

Elyria defense attorney Kenneth Lieux said a possible conflict hadn’t occurred to him either, but he doesn’t think it’s an issue right now.

“I don’t know why it would be a problem,” he said. “Judges handles their docket and grand juries all the time. They’re different entities.”

Zaleski also said it seemed odd to him that the Supreme Court would appoint a judge who lives in Columbus because the state will have to pay either for Crawford to make the drive up to Elyria or for a hotel if he stays locally while hearing cases.

Zaleski said it doesn’t matter to him if he doesn’t continue running Burge’s criminal caseload, but it makes more sense to him to use a visiting judge who lives closer, such as in Cuyahoga County, to save money.

Lorain defense attorney Anthony Baker said the Supreme Court probably wanted to bring in someone from out of the county to handle Burge’s cases, but given his dual role, Crawford might not be the best choice.

“I understand the independent view, but at the same time is that the independent voice you want?” Baker said.

Baker, who is black, also said he doesn’t believe Burge is a racist, despite allegations that the judge has used racially charged language, including using the N-word and calling blacks “homeboys” and whites “crackers.”

Baker said he was speaking only for himself, but he felt in the instances when he’s heard Burge use language like that it was meant to “break down walls.”

Will also wrote in his court filing that Burge has said he judges cases involving black defendants and white victims more harshly, but Baker said that hasn’t been his experience with Burge or any other judge in Lorain County.

“If you polled the black people in the courtroom, they wouldn’t call him a racist,” he said.

Another local defense attorney, JD Tomlinson, took issue with how his interactions with Burge, whom he considers a mentor, were portrayed by Will in his affidavit.

Will wrote that Burge encouraged Tomlinson to hit on Assistant County Prosecutor Sherry Glass, but then warned him off because her husband, county Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Strohsack, carries a gun.

Tomlinson said that was an obvious joke not only because Burge knows of his respect for Glass, but also because he is friends with Strohsack, who was a few years behind him in high school.

The affidavit also recounted a December 2012 incident in which Tomlinson asked Burge to approach the bench with Assistant County Prosecutor Nick Hanek and Probation Officer John Machovina.

According to Will, Burge looked angrily at Tomlinson and cursed while demanding to know what was so important that they needed to come up to the bench.

“During the brief conversation that followed, Judge Burge shook his hand toward Attorney Tomlinson acting as if he was going to slap him in the face,” Will wrote.

Tomlinson said Burge wasn’t actually upset with him and wasn’t going to hit him.

He said the same was true of another incident in which Burge told Tomlinson he would break his septum if he didn’t spit out the gum he was chewing — something Tomlinson said he shouldn’t have been doing in a courtroom anyway.

Tomlinson said everyone, including his defendant, got the joke, but apparently the humor was lost on the prosecutor who was present.

“The thought that I would ever fear Judge Burge coming over that bench and even placing a finger on me is laughable,” he said.

Tomlinson said he never received a call from Will’s office asking for his version of events and he was concerned that Burge’s comments were being taken out of context and “grossly exaggerated.”
Will declined to comment on Tomlinson’s statements.

“We stand by what’s in the affidavit,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.

  • Barbara Ann Fairall

    This, people, is a waste of taxpayers time and money! It sounds to me aa if Dennis Will is playing high school games. What I am reading amounts to the popular kids having fun and getting the jokes, while the nerd sits in the corner and cries because they feel left out. GROW UP PEOPLE AND STOP WASTING MY MONEY…or next election…I will waste yours!

  • Avon Laker

    If Will put the same effort into assisting his prosecutors that he’s putting into his personal vendetta against Judge Burge they would have much less to complain about. Judge Burge is a good man, a great judge, and one funny guy! Will needs to get a sense of humor or better yet a new job. His claims are outrageous. Stay strong Judge. We are lucky to have you on the bench!

  • Denise Caruloff

    “Will also wrote in his court filing that Burge has said he judges cases involving black defendants and white victims more harshly…..” perhaps “will” might want to get a new deck….that hand has gotten old. What’s in your wallet Will?

  • Fedupintheburbs

    Lorain County Taxpayers are tired of seeing our dollars wasted! We have a struggling economy and THIS is what we get!? Stop the political games! We see right through it!

  • Ex_Subscriber

    And the Burge supporters come out of the woodwork when things really get serious and it looks like the Ohio Supreme Court may FINALLY take action against this out-of-control, incompetent, overreaching, biased (Not racist, but biased in favor of the defense and against the prosecution) judge. I said well over a year ago that in my opinion Mr. Burge ought to be either recalled or impeached and I for one am glad that it appears that the chickens are at last coming home to roost. The Avon Laker who commented about Mr. Burge being “one funny guy” and that the prosecutor needs to get a sense of humor boggles my mind. I don’t WANT a funny guy on the bench, I want a competent fair judge who is as unbiased as possible. I also don’t want a prosecutor treating capital crimes as humorous in any way. This is a court of law, not comedic theater, but unfortunately under Burge it’s become a sideshow and the county judicial system has become a laughingstock. It’s time for the man to go and since he won’t go of his own volition, it’s time and past time for the Ohio Supreme Court to remove him.

    • Avon Laker

      I agree. competent, fair and unbiased are top priority. I do. And I a believe the judge is. But inserting humor at times to make a point does not negate that. They are not mutually exclusive. Telling an attorney you’re going to punch him in the nose if he doesn’t remove his gum is funny. The fact that Dennis Will is taking that out of context and spinning it claiming he is physically intimating is not.

      • TinIdol

        Tomlinson stated Burge was just breaking the ice so if the alleged victim of Burge’s remark feels the matter was “taken out of context”

        • Avon Laker

          It’s frightening that the prosecutor is citing events without even consulting these “alleged” victims?! It appears clear that Tomlinson had no problem it. Just goes to show Will is not interested in the truth he is interested in the story that will support his case. It’s scary.

  • Razorback Twou

    “It seems like there might be a conflict there,” I think so. Judges may run grand jurys and preside over cases but I don’t think they do both with the same defendants. Of course, In Lorain County, where a prosecutor files a suit against a judge whom he is suppose to be working with, anything is possible. Will needs to sit down and shut the f*#%* up.

    • HankKwah

      Was on the grand jury a while back and only had contact with a judge on Day One. We were advised to listen to all the evidence presented, and to determine if the evidence was strong enough for the prosecutor to have a case against the defendant. That was it. As for Burge, I thought he was horrible as a defense attorney, and couldn’t imagine him being even-handed on the bench. Seems I was right. He needs to go.

      • B4CE

        Can you imagine Honking Hank during jury deliberations? Calling everyone stupid idiots and correcting their grammar. On second thought, he is probably quiet as a church mouse when he is not behind a key board!

        • HankKwah

          Thanks for unmasking, Troll-boi.

          Don’t EVER expect anyone to take you the least bit seriously (LMAO Who ever did anyway??!!) ever again.

          LOLOLOLOLOL You’re such a joke.

          • B4CE

            The jokes on you! I knew you were to much of a weak minded individual to keep your word and not read or reply to my comments.
            Seems your lack of a real life keeps coming back to bite you in the butt.
            In the end, you always have been and always will be a TROLL

          • HankKwah

            I said I’d not respond to your losing efforts a few days ago.

            Who’s following whom, droll-boi? You know, if you jumped in the lake, and drowned, you’d be less dumb than you are now? Kinda sad, don’tcha think?

          • B4CE

            Me drown? Ha, I pull dead people that can’t swim from the murky depths! Something you wouldn’t be able to comprehend because your life consists of posting your inflated bravado online.
            But thanks for clarifying that it was just the last article that you weren’t going to read or respond to my posts. But we both know you are a weak minded individual that only feels alive when you are pretend arguing with an anonymous poster online…..TROLL!

          • HankKwah

            Please excuse him, folks. This is his third? fourth? username because he keeps getting banned. He’s a troll and he’s upset because he keeps getting shut down and embarrassed by everyone else on here. The CT would be wise to just block his IP address.

          • B4CE

            Silly Hank. Once again you have no idea what you are talking about. Unlike you, I don’t live online. I barely have time to post under one name, let alone multiple ones. Some of us have lives that consist of things other than posting 2700 comments online!
            TROLL

          • HankKwah

            Still jealous, huh?

            You still didn’t tell us how many times you’ve had a username banned? Is it up to 5? 7? I know you’re up there. ‘Cept for your IQ, that is.

  • Bill

    Ask the police in the county how they feel about Burge’s slap on the wrist punishments. I for one do not think this is a waste of taxpayers money. Burge is a clown and has stopped being funny the minute he opened his pie hole.