December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Will fires back against ‘personal attacks’ by Burge

ELYRIA — Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will accused county Common Pleas Judge James Burge on Friday of seeing him as an enemy to be fought.

“Judge Burge clearly views (my office) as his adversary that he must combat, contrary to his position as a judge,” Will wrote in an affidavit sent to the Ohio Supreme Court as part of his ongoing effort to have Burge barred from hearing cases in which his office is involved.

Burge, who has denied being biased against Will, declined to comment Friday.

Will also denied that he had been keeping records on Burge as part of an effort to remove him from the bench, an allegation the judge has leveled at Will in comments to The Chronicle-Telegram and his formal response to Will’s court filings against him.

“This assertion is blatantly false,” Will wrote. “While numerous Assistant Prosecutors have memorialized interactions they have had with Judge Burge, these were reduced to writing for purposes of documenting what occurred during interactions with Judge Burge, which might at a later date be called into question.”

In his original affidavit of disqualification against Burge filed last month, Will accused the judge of physically intimidating and sexually harassing assistant prosecutors, making racist comments and seeking to find a government job for his wife.

When Burge responded earlier this week, he suggested that Will’s staff was making the allegations against him only because they are beholden to Will for their jobs. He also suggested that if everything he’s been accused of is true, then Will failed in his obligations to take action against him sooner.

But Will wrote Wednesday that he hadn’t pressured his staff to make the allegations against Burge. Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo denied in his own affidavit that he engaged in “aggressive debriefing” of prosecutors working in Burge’s courtroom to gather information on the judge.

Will also complained in his latest filing that rather than respond to many of the allegations against him, some dating as far back as 2007, that Burge’s formal response was used to launch “personal attacks” against his staff “regardless of the accuracy or truthfulness of such statements.”

Burge wrote extensively earlier this week on his private conversations with various assistant county prosecutors, detailing their professional and personal woes.

For instance, Burge wrote about the marital and family health problems that his former bailiff, Assistant County Prosecutor Joe Tackett, discussed with him. Burge also suggested that Tackett, a former police officer, had once been addicted to prescription painkillers.

Burge wrote in his formal response that Tackett had left his employ last year because of disputes over how he should use his sick leave to help his ill wife. The judge also detailed numerous problems he had with Tackett’s behavior and dress while working for him.

But in a letter Burge wrote to Tackett’s parents in November and included in Will’s latest court filing, the judge blamed himself for Tackett quitting, saying he had been too hard on his former bailiff. Burge also acknowledged in the letter that working for him could be difficult, particularly while Tackett was dealing with family issues.

The filing does not explain why Burge penned a letter to Tackett’s parents.

“While all of this was occurring, Joe, believing that I am a better man than I am, went to work for a judge whose various legal and social beliefs, expressed both out loud and in writing, placed him in jeopardy of professional discipline — or even worse,” Burge wrote. “Because I have always been absorbed in my own agenda, which I have pursued with my own brand of recklessness, I was entirely insensitive to the pressure Joe was under.”

Burge has acknowledged being the subject of inquiries by the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel and is also the target of a state criminal investigation, which appears to include an examination of his finances.

Other members of Will’s staff also weighed in Friday with their own affidavits, including paralegal Amanda Thomas, who considered applying for a job as Burge’s bailiff. Thomas wrote that while Burge had been complimentary of her abilities, she suspected he had an ulterior motive.

“These complimentary statements were framed with statements which I felt were his attempt to engage me in a derogatory and negative discussion about my employer,” Thomas wrote. “I felt intimidated and manipulated by this type of conversation.”

Thomas also wrote that she later concluded that considering taking a job with Burge was “misguided and unrealistic” based on his behavior.

Will wrote that after reading Burge’s response to the allegations against him, he feels even more justified in seeking to have the judge barred from involvement with his office.

Until the dispute between Burge and Will is settled, Visiting Judge Dale Crawford is handling Burge’s criminal docket.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147

or bdicken@chroniclet.com.