August 1, 2014

Elyria
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Female defense attorneys defend Judge Burge against allegations

Jenifer Berki

Jenifer Berki

Kristina King

Kristina King

Rula Raphael

Rula Raphael

ELYRIA — Three female defense attorneys have written affidavits defending Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge against allegations he sexually harassed female attorneys and engaged in other improper behavior.

“We felt it was the right thing to do under the circumstances because what was being said about Judge Burge was not our experience in that courtroom or with him as a person,” Elyria attorney Jenifer Berki said Wednesday.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will has accused Burge of being biased against his office, intimidating and sexually harassing prosecutors, making racist comments and trying to use his influence to obtain a government job for his wife.

Burge has denied wrongdoing and is preparing a response to Will’s request to the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to have him barred from hearing cases in which Will’s office is involved.

“I have never felt sexually harassed or objectified by Judge Burge,” Karri King, who works for Berki’s law firm, wrote in her affidavit. “I have also never felt physically threatened or intimidated by Judge Burge. I very much respect the women who work for the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office and consider them to be my friends, but I cannot say that I have ever witnessed any occasions where Judge Burge appeared to be overly aggressive or violent.”

Will has said that he felt compelled to take action last month after a May 7 incident in which Burge allegedly intimidated Assistant County Prosecutor Jennifer Riedthaler.

Will wrote in his affidavit that Burge entered the courtroom that morning and cursed while telling Riedthaler and an Elyria police detective that he was having a bad day. After Riedthaler asked what was wrong, Burge allegedly slammed his hands down on the table and leaned over her.

“You will know in about two minutes. I don’t want to yell at you in front of everyone,” Burge allegedly said.

Will wrote that Burge then began pacing behind Riedthaler, upsetting and frightening her. The judge later grinned and told her he was “over it” when she asked him what the problem was.

Berki wrote that she was in the courtroom during the incident between Burge and Riedthaler.

“I consider that prosecutor a friend and cannot in any way speak to the way he made her feel,” she wrote. “However, I did not feel that I was in a threatening environment at that time. To me it was business as usual. Additionally, I have not witnessed any comments that I felt were inappropriate or demeaning.”

Rula Raphael, another Elyria attorney, wrote that Burge has always made her feel comfortable in his courtroom, both as a female and as a person of Middle Eastern descent.

“Judge Burge has always expressed a positive interest in and respect for my ethnic beliefs and traditions and a desire to understand my diverse background,” she wrote. “I have felt comfortable and at ease to discuss any topic around Judge Burge due to his pretrial room and courtroom being known as a place for a candid open forum.”

Berki wrote that the “comedic relief” in Burge’s courtroom often helps break the tension.

King wrote that the rooms where defense attorneys and prosecutors meet to discuss cases are places “for negotiating and ‘letting off steam.’” She wrote that such an atmosphere is important for attorneys to speak freely and one that she doesn’t want to change.

“I have heard attorneys (defense attorneys and prosecutors) make jokes and other statements that if published, would cause great embarrassment,” she wrote. “I myself have made statements that I would not want the public to hear.”

In her affidavit, which along with those of King and Raphael, was delivered to Burge on Wednesday, Berki wrote that the “war” between Burge and Will needs to end.

“It is no secret that the Prosecutor’s Office and Judge Burge do not have the best relationship,” Berki wrote. “It has made practicing in that courtroom very difficult, especially when the prosecutors keep changing. However, this disdain for each other does not in my opinion require the removal of an elected official from office, just as it does not warrant the removal of the Prosecutor. I am sure if a file was kept on any one of us, there would be things present that may not be considered professional.”

Burge, who also is the subject of an inquiry by the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel and an ongoing state criminal investigation that focuses in part on his finances, declined to comment on the documents given to him by Berki, King and Raphael.

Will said he hadn’t reviewed the women’s affidavits, although he stands by what he filed with the Supreme Court.

“They have the ability to respond in whatever way they feel appropriate,” Will said.

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

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    “I have heard attorneys (defense attorneys and prosecutors) make jokes and other statements that if published, would cause great embarrassment,” she wrote. “I myself have made statements that I would not want the public to hear.”

    Shame on you, Karri. Shame on you.

    • tickmeoff

      Larry, obviously you don’t care for Judge Burge. You are a supervisor yourself. He is a Judge. A supervisor is like a judge. You have to determine if somebody is being honest with you or trying to deceive you.
      Judge Burge is liberal, which you are not, so you are not going to agree with him.There is nothing wrong with being conservative or liberal. All you can ask is that both sides are heard. There is no shame on Karri.
      There will be people for Judge Burge and Prosecutor Will. Let them present their cases and let the law decide.

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        My comment had nothing to do with Burge. I was referring to Karri’s comment a la Donald Sterling.

    • Wanderer

      I like this statement actually, I think she makes a great point. Larry, I’d be willing to bet if someone followed you around for 8 years there might be a few things you wouldn’t like publicized.

      Shame on you, Larry. Shame on you.

      Furthermore; referring to “…make jokes and other statements…” – consider the circumstances. I have heard doctors and nurses make jokes grossly inappropriate, that’s how they deal with some of the things they witness. Can you imagine how depressing criminal cases (day in and day out) would be? Have you ever heard a police officer off duty? Do you think everyone should be monitored at all times? I don’t think you’re being very fair Larry.

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        So you believe Donald Sterling was improperly called out for his private comments?

        • oldruss

          Sterling was “called out” for the RACIST comments he made, and for the history he has.

          • stillsleepyeyes

            So I guess homies and crackers are not racist words????

          • oldruss

            Sterling didn’t use those terms, did he? I was specifically responding to Larry Crnobrnja’s question.

    • therest_ofthestory

      Give her some credit for her honesty. Because, of course, YOU have never said anything that you regret or have said anything in the heat of the moment….

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        Then you agree that Donald Sterling was improperly berated for his private comments?

  • LGD

    I hope that when the dust settle’s that this embarrassment of he said/he said/she said whatever is used as a guideline on how not to act as an alledgely professional adult.

    • Americaschild

      Will needs to take his grudges and go home.

  • Jeff Kidder

    Judge Burge is SO far liberal left, he’s almost heading right again. There will be no justice because those deciding his fate will also be liberals!

    • Americaschild

      the law is the law and when, like obama, we do our own thing we have anarchy

  • Americaschild

    Taxpayers you are paying for this Will circus.

    • d c c

      we are also paying for the Burge circus

      • golfingirl

        The whole Lorain County Judicial system is one big circus.

        Might as well just move it to a big tent.

        Time to clean house completely. They are all acting like children!

        Enough is enough already! When Democrats are publicly criticizing other Democrats, you know there are major problems.

        Of course, all the Republicans have wisely left, so they are no longer around to fight with.

        • Stan K

          You are still learning about politics I see..LOL .Democrats vs Democrats and even Republicans vs Republicans has been going on for decades.Or did you forget how ugly the Republicans became with each other during the last presidential election?…Or even how nasty Hillary got in the primaries against Obama? This Is how politics works.Keep golfingirl because it is what you know

          • golfingirl

            I am well aware of how “politics works,” or more accurately don’t work.

            I am neither Republican, nor Democrat and do not vote along any party lines.

            But in this case, it is a Democrat issue…..just calling it what it is.

            If it were Republicans, I would do the same.

            Fact is, in Elyria, one political party has been in control, and therefore has to accept responsibility for the conditions their policies have created.

  • Jeff

    Why are we even talking about Donald Sterling?? Did I miss something about the Clippers in the article?

    • Larry Crnobrnja

      You should read it again.

    • Otter

      I thought it was just me…I didn’t see the connection either. Apparently Donald Sterling is now the bar by which all others comments will be judged.

  • stop ur whining part deux

    Everyday more people are coming out of the wood work and completely contradicting what Will’s office has been saying. That many people can not be wrong certainly since all who have spoken out have nothing to gain.

    It is especially damning considering Will has stated that he did not keep a detailed file on Burge, which he clearly. In addition he also claimed that he did not threaten to go after Burge, when again, he clearly did.

    This stinks of a vendetta. Time for Will to suck it up and get back to work.

    • Abbie

      Who / what information has contradicted Will’s office?

      • Avon Laker

        Everyday someone new steps forward contradicting Will’s allegations against this judge. The black attorney, the “shake down” attorney, the attorney who said he had to remove his gum, other judges, now these female attorneys..! Every one of those people directly involved with Will’s over the top, taken out of context, ridiculous “stories.” Will isn’t interested in fact he’s interested in supporting his case, falsely. It’s terrifying conduct for a prosecutor.

        • Abbie

          How did “these female attorneys” contradict Mr. Will’s office – were they there? They simply don’t have the same situation to share. They have their own reasons / motives for coming forward.

  • golfingirl

    Of course they are going to defend Burge, he makes the decisions on their clients.

    Plus, their competition is the prosecutor’s office, and Will, when trying a client.

    Which side would you take if you were a defense attorney?

    Just more politics.

    • oldruss

      I understood from the article that these defense attorneys gave their affidavits voluntarily, and unsolicited.

      • golfingirl

        I understand, but it will only help their cases when they are again in front of Burge with one of their defendants.

        Support the Judge who is making a decision, likely to get a better verdict.

        Unless of course the judge is entirely “impartial.”

  • Spec440

    Shocking that defense attorneys support Burge. Shocking.
    Why shouldn’t we believe the very people that get paid to lie for a living?

  • Creepy Gun Toting Cracker

    So much arrogance. Maybe some humility is in order.

  • Abbie

    THAT’s what I am thinking – of course a DEFENSE attorney will back this particular judge – it’s in their best interest. When someone does a wrongdoing, they don’t do the same thing to EVERY one they have dealings with. It does NOT minimize the allegations that are in place by the persons who experienced them. These allegations are being handled with due process so Burge supporters can relax – if Burge is not guilty of it, it will come out. If it comes out that he in fact has been inappropriate, he can reflect on the consequences of his own action.

    • therest_ofthestory

      The same could be said of the prosecutors working under Will. How do we know it’s not a condition of their continued employment? Or that the allegations were made by someone who lost a case in Burge’s court and is looking to make excuses for that loss……too much supposition and room for speculation. It is disturbing that Will is saying that he didn’t keep a file but there seems to be a time line…..I would question his veracity in the matter….

      • Abbie

        Not so unusual really since this is an unusual situation. Easy to establish a timeline when the criminal cases are timestamped. I really don’t think it’s fair to imply that the prosecutors working under Mr. Will are anything less than ethical and doing their jobs, after all, these news articles are NOT about them. Both sides go into court knowing that a case is either won or lost no matter which judge is hearing the case.

  • Anna

    Clearly they have a lot to lose by going against the prosecutor’s office. It is more important to have a good relationship with the county prosecutor’s office then one particular judge. They put themselves on the line by writing those affidavits, which makes them more credible.