ELYRIA — Former Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge has appealed his conviction on misdemeanor falsification and tampering with records charges to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Burge has long maintained that he did nothing illegal in the case, which centered on financial disclosure forms that judges are required to fill out each year.
A jury disagreed, as did the 9th District Court of Appeals, which upheld Burge’s conviction earlier this year. The appeals court did, however, order Visiting Judge Dale Crawford to hold a new sentencing hearing in the case to clear up issues with how Burge’s sentence was structured.
Burge was ordered to pay $3,000 in fines in the case. He resigned shortly after being convicted in 2015.
Michael Stepanik, Burge’s lawyer, noted that although Burge wasn’t required to resign because the charges ultimately were determined to be misdemeanors, his client felt he had no choice because he didn’t want to return to the bench as a convicted criminal.
The charges against Burge stemmed from his failure to disclose his interest in Whiteacre North. The company at the time owned 600 Broadway, a Lorain office building where Burge’s legal offices were before he became a judge in 2007. Several other lawyers also had offices in the building while Burge was a judge.
Burge and his business partners made a deal to sell the building to another attorney, but the deal fell apart in early 2011 and Burge sold his interest in the company to his wife in June of that year for $1.
Stepanik wrote that Burge made a mistake in preparing one form and that there was disagreement over whether he made a mistake on a second form, but those didn’t rise to the level of crimes.
“This appeal involves a matter of great public or general interest, not only to the independence of the thousands of elected and appointed public officials who are required to file the FDS, but also to the public that employs them,” Stepanik wrote. “This independence is especially important to the judiciary. In this regard, the issues raised in the instant case should be resolved by the Supreme Court so that neither a judge’s ordinary negligence, nor his disagreement with the Ethics Commission over the definition of a term in an FDS inquiry, will result in his retaliatory prosecution for, or his conviction of, a criminal offense.”
Burge said Friday that it’s up to the Supreme Court whether it accepts his case, but he felt it important to continue to try to clear his record.
“I believe in my own cause,” he said.
Prosecutors also tried to appeal Burge’s conviction, arguing that he should have been convicted of felony versions of the tampering with records charges. Because of an error in how Crawford prepared the jury verdict forms in the case, the charges were reduced to misdemeanors.
The appeals court declined to address that issue in its decision earlier this year.
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