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Board recommends law license suspension for ex-judge Burge

  • 040815-BURGETRIAL-KB03

    James Burge

    CHRONICLE FILE

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Former Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge James Burge could be facing a six-month suspension of his law license after a recommendation by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct.

This week the Board of Professional Conduct filed a recommendation that Burge’s law license be suspended for one year, with six months stayed “on the condition that he engages in no further misconduct.” The Ohio Supreme Court will now decide whether to follow the recommendation of suspension.

Burge was charged with five counts of professional misconduct, with each count alleging violations of the code of judicial conduct and rules of professional conduct during Burge’s tenure as judge with Lorain County Common Pleas Court, the filing said.

“Based upon the parties’ stipulations and evidence presented at the hearing, the panel finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent engaged in professional misconduct,” the filing said. “Upon consideration of the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors, and case precedents, the panel recommends that Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year, with six months of the suspension stayed.”

The counts were based on Burge’s criminal convictions, his nondisclosure of relationship with Whiteacre North, rude and discourteous behavior and his handling of three cases, according to the filing.

The criminal convictions 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.

In April 2015, Burge was found guilty of counts of third-degree felony tampering with records. A week later he resigned as judge. His license to practice law was suspended on an interim basis for nearly four months based on his felony conviction.

In May 2015, Burge’s tampering with records convictions were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors due to the visiting Judge Dale Crawford’s preparation of jury verdict forms that failed to specify the appropriate level of offense for the charges, according to the filing.

In August 2015, Burge’s law license was reinstated. Burge was sentenced to three $1,000 fines, which he appealed, and eventually paid when the ruling was upheld.

One of the pieces of evidence of Burge’s alleged rude and discourteous behavior was a letter regarding a state representative, Lynn Slaby, who had served as a judge on the 9th District Court of Appeals for 14 years.

In the letter to three Lorain County state representatives, Burge characterized the former judge and his proposed legislation as “nothing more than the hobgoblin of a small-minded, mouth-breathing, Tea Party type whose political style and abilities uniquely qualifies him to do nothing.” Burge later said in the letter, “Until recently the 9th District Court of Appeals (made up of Lorain, Medina, Wayne and Summit counties) was nothing more than an affirmative action program for intellectually challenged, Summit County Republican lawyers. That’s how Lynn got elected.”

Evidence also was presented that said Burge referred to Caucasian defendants as “crackers” and African-American and Latino defendants as “homeboys” from the bench.

In one of the cases Burge was alleged to have mishandled, according to the filing, he told a prosecutor who was arguing against his decision to acquit a man of rape and find him guilty of a lesser charge, “So to the extent, I don’t care what anybody says, I’m right. In fact, the more I talk, the righter I get.”

On Wednesday, Burge made a similar comment when asked about the recommendation of the Board of Professional Conduct.

“As a judge, I made my own rules, and I guess people got tired of it,” he said with a smile, shrugging his shoulders. “What more is there to say? I’ve never been wrong in my life.”

When asked if he would appeal the suspension if the Ohio Supreme Court follows the recommendation, Burge said he likely would.

“I have fought every step of the way,” he said. “Now, I have never won, but I do fight.”

Burge said the Supreme Court could give him four months credit toward the suspension from the four months in 2015 his law license was suspended. If he were given the four months credit, he would then be suspended for just two months.

“If they gave me credit for that, I probably wouldn’t fight it,” Burge said. “I could use a couple months off. I’ll tell you what, J.D. (Tomlinson, Burge’s law firm partner) is going to have one hell of a law clerk.”

Contact Scott Mahoney at (440) 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.


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