November 26, 2014

Elyria
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Judge releases revised financial records

 Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge

ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge has corrected his annual financial disclosure statements, which he acknowledged last week contained numerous errors.

In documents mailed Monday to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, Burge acknowledged 43 separate mistakes he said he made in filling out the forms for the years 2007 through 2013.

Burge said he went back through his disclosure statements after a review by The Chronicle-Telegram showed there was inaccurate information about his family’s connections to Whiteacre North Ltd., which owns a Lorain office building at 600 Broadway.

The judge called the incorrect information he filed mistakes.

“I had the same problem that I had putting together my children’s Christmas toys; I don’t read directions well,” Burge said.

Failure to properly fill out the financial disclosure statements, which are designed to reveal possible conflicts of interest, can open up a judge to possible misdemeanor criminal charges and ethics violations.

In the documents mailed Monday, Burge wrote that he shouldn’t have included Whiteacre North when he filed disclosure statements for 2007, 2008 and 2009 because the company had been sold to attorney Shimane Smith and his wife, Azuree, in 2007. Burge also wrote that he should have listed the company in 2011 and 2012 because the Smiths defaulted on the purchase in February 2011 and control reverted back to Burge and his business partners, attorneys Michael Tully and Susan Burge, who is the judge’s wife.

Burge sold his interest in Whiteacre North to Susan Burge in June 2011 for $1, according to documents provided by the judge earlier this year.

Under the disclosure rules, judges are required to list the companies that members of their household own and operate. Burge routinely listed his wife’s private law practice on the forms and has said he should have done the same with Whiteacre North while his wife had control of the company.

Burge listed Whiteacre North on his disclosure form for 2013 when he submitted it earlier this year.

He also acknowledged that he didn’t list the Smiths as debtors in 2008, something he should have done.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office has raised the issue of whether Burge has a conflict of interest based on his connection to Whiteacre North because several defense attorneys who practice in front of him have offices at 600 Broadway. Burge also is a guarantor on a $365,240 loan on the building from 1998.

Burge has previously insisted that he doesn’t have a conflict and the attorneys who have offices there have said they’ve received no special treatment from the judge.

But Burge’s lawyer did acknowledge last year in a letter to the Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel that the judge should have stepped back from cases involving those attorneys from February 2011 through June 2011. The lawyer, Brian Spiess, wrote that the judge hadn’t realized that control of Whiteacre North automatically reverted to the former owners’ control once the Smiths defaulted.

The judge also wrote in the documents mailed Monday that he had made numerous other mistakes while completing the forms over the years, including not listing his income as a judge for every year he’s been in office.

He also wrote he incorrectly continued to include his private law practice in filings for 2007 and 2008 even though he closed down the office when he became a judge.

Additionally, Burge added numerous other items for various years, including stock dividends, interest income and some creditors, including banks and credit cards, he hadn’t listed on his original filings.

Although he couldn’t speak specifically about Burge’s forms, Rich Dove, secretary for the Supreme Court’s grievance board, has said there is no formal mechanism in place to amend the disclosure statements, although judges sometimes do.

Dove has said that even when a judge or lawyer files documents to amend the forms, doing so doesn’t remove the possibility of criminal or ethical sanctions.

Burge has said that he doesn’t believe he committed a crime because he would have had to “knowingly” file false statements to be convicted and he had no reason to deliberately file incorrect information.

The judge is the target of an ongoing criminal investigation by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. That probe appears to focus, at least in part, on Burge’s finances, including his connection to Whiteacre North.

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


  • Stan K

    Throw the book at him already..and the gavel too

  • Otter

    “I don’t read directions well” ummmm, nuff said.

  • Otter

    “…I don’t read directions well.” ummm, nuff said.

  • Otter

    “.

  • stillsleepyeyes

    This is the same man that is suppose to interpret the law…………….43 mistakes……what do you say now russ?

  • GreatRedeemer

    What you expect. Here is a judge that gave probation to a convicted killer a few years ago.

  • todd

    “I don’t read directions very well.” I wonder if the IRS accepts that excuse. Embarrassing to the whole system.

  • silkskin1960

    …which of you are without sin….cast the first stone…..OH THATS RIGHT….you already did…..my bad….lol

    • todd

      He’s a common pleas judge silk. That means he sentences killers to thieves and everything in between. It is not fair to this county to have an individual who self admittedly cannot follow directions well. REALLY? ? Directions are kind of important for a LCCP judge. I’m casting my stone because he should be held to a higher standard as an elected official with such importance over things such as life or death.

      • silkskin1960

        Yes….but guess who gave him THAT CHANCE? There went stone #1 and it wasnt thrown by the judge….Im just saying

        • stillsleepyeyes

          and he took advantage off THAT CHANCE…..there stone #2……………..just sayin

          • silkskin1960

            very true, but I havent met a human being yet that didnt go where the best money is being paid. We offered him a job, he took it. Sure, he was supposed to rule the way he is governed to, but I know ALLOT of people that dont do exactly what they are supposed to ALL THE TIME on their job…..present included. No matter how big or small the detail is….if its not in your job description, then you shouldnt be doing it at work. One wrong doing doesnt give preference over another. Im not defending the man by any means, but lets face it….as a people we are the ones the botched this because we are the ones that put him in office. NOW WE KNOW BETTER NEXT TIME. Perhaps someone will honestly do homework on the candidate instead of going with whose name is popular in the news. And that is how I believe he got where he is now.

          • stillsleepyeyes

            agreed…………….

  • oldruss

    Seems like harmless error to me. The judge did not knowingly make false statements on his financial disclosure forms. In fact, he made mistakes on both sides of the ledger, including business interest when he no longer had an interest; and omitting others in which he may have had an interest due to a reverter clause in a sales agreement. What the judge needed was a CPA to do both his tax returns and to prepare these financial disclosure forms.

    • stillsleepyeyes

      Why yes, and it only took him 7 years and a investigation to correct them……………harmless……………..

      • oldruss

        These mistakes were only recently brought to the Judge’s attention. If he had realized from the outset that he had made a mistake on the financial disclosure form, he would have then and there made the corrections. As it has been said, the Judge did not knowingly file a false financial disclosure form.

        They are harmless errors, unless, now that you have the corrected financial disclosure forms, you have proof that was otherwise previously unknown to you, that the Judge had a conflict of interest in any case he handled. Which, I seriously doubt.

        • Joe Flabetz

          Do you actually believe what you post. He is a judge, this “knowingly file a false disclosure” language is used by people that use the law to avoid accountability. This guy makes life decisions on people, and can ruin a life or lively hood, and he gets to use the excuse “doesn’t follow directions”.
          His ego is out of control, and simple fact, he is overturned by the appeals/Supreme Court mote than any judge in Ohio.
          As a voter, I readily admit I voted for him the first term, but I will admit my mistake,

        • Otter

          So far, the Judge is the only one saying he didn’t do it knowingly…I could almost understand the issue with the building, but stock dividends, interest income, banks, and credit cards?

          • oldruss

            Were any cases brought before Judge Burge influenced one way or the other by any of the business interests that have now been listed on the corrected financial disclosure forms? No. End of story.

    • Tomas Pane

      Nonsense oldruss. A high school graduate or anyone with a G.E.D. could fill out those financial disclosure forms: Here’s what I own, here’s any interest in properties that I or my spouse may have, here’s a loan where I vouch and put my name as guarantor for 350 grand plus, here’s what I owe, and here’s who owes me. It’s question and answer. It’s not rocket science. Anyone with the ability to read standard English and answer the questions truthfully could easily navigate the documents. A sitting judge with 35 years experience as a criminal lawyer should certainly possess the legal acumen and attention to detail the general public deserves out of its elected officials. Or at the very least, have a better command of the English language and its common applications.

      • oldruss

        I expect that Judge Burge is a busy man, and filling out these financial disclosure forms simply did not have a high priority. Did he make mistakes? Yes. Did he deliberately fail to disclose certain business interests? No. Was any case that came before him on the bench influenced one way or the other because of any of his business interests that have now been disclosed? No.
        End of story.

  • JoyceEarly

    And he keeps getting re-elected by the sheep of Lorain County!

  • Tom Fields

    The judge’s excuse is “I don’t read directions well”? Well, I don’t read the law
    well, which is how I was suckered by the courts into allowing myself to be unlawfully “sequestered” as a witness from the trial which was held to judge the complaint that I initiated as a result of my father’s condition being exploited just hours before he died of cancer, while on a morphine drip and under a Do Not Resuscitate order. And when I realized that I had been so suckered, and I read the law and understood it, I looked to the court to remedy its “mistake”. If judges are going to refuse remedying this kind of “mistake”, as they did in my case, then I sure as **** hope this judge pays for his 43 mistakes. Judges should be held to the very highest standard …