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Cops and Courts

Burge submits letter of resignation as judge


ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge has tendered his resignation effective next Monday.

Burge’s resignation comes less than a week after he was convicted of tampering with records and falsification for problems with financial disclosure forms he was required to file with the Ohio Supreme Court. The discrepancies centered on the judge’s connections to Whiteacre North, which owns 600 Broadway, a Lorain office building where several local attorneys have their legal practices.

“It’s a tough way to end a career in law,” Burge, who has been an attorney for nearly 40 years, said Tuesday.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office prosecuted Burge, declined to comment on the resignation.

Burge said he mailed his letter of resignation, dated Tuesday, to Gov. John Kasich, who will be responsible for filling the vacancy. Burge is a Democrat, while Kasich is a Republican.

A Kasich spokesman has said that the governor’s office will ask the Lorain County Republican Party to recommend three candidates to replace Burge, whose term was set to expire at the end of 2018. Kasich’s selection will have to run in 2016 to hold the seat for the final two years of Burge’s term.

County Republican Party Chairwoman Helen Hurst said she’s had several people express interest in the job.

Although Hurst declined to say who had reached out to her, Amherst attorney Richard Ramsey, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against county Domestic Relations Judge Frank Janik in 2012, said he is among those who has asked to be considered.

Hurst also said she plans to ask the county’s four sitting Republican judges, Avon Lake Municipal Court Judge Darrell Bilancini, county Domestic Relations Judge Debra Boros and Elyria Municipal Court judges Gary Bennett and Lisa Locke Graves, who they might want to replace Burge.

Bennett, Bilancini and Boros all said Tuesday they aren’t interested in the job. Locke Graves declined to comment.

Bilancini said he enjoys the job he has now, but also noted the political realities of mounting two campaigns in a short amount of time, including during the 2016 presidential election. Democrats traditionally do well in countywide races during presidential election years.

“You have to consider the ability of someone of the Republican persuasion to win a countywide election,” Bilancini said.

Burge took the bench in 2007 following a lengthy career as a prominent defense attorney.

Lorain defense attorney Jack Bradley, who once was Burge’s law partner and worked for a time on the judge’s defense team, said he was surprised by Burge’s resignation. He said he has urged Burge to mount an appeal, something Burge said after a jury found him guilty of three felonies and three misdemeanors that he didn’t plan to do.

“It’s very sad for me to see him convicted and even sadder that he is resigning,” Bradley said. “I just know him to care about people and whenever a fellow attorney needed help, he was there.”

Burge became an attorney in 1975 following a brief stint as a teacher and spent the bulk of his legal career as a criminal defense attorney before taking the bench.

Since becoming a judge, Burge has been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including an intensive review of Ohio’s lethal injection protocols and his efforts to undo the convictions of Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen in the controversial Head Start child molestation case.

Burge has come under fire over the years in other cases, including for his decision to spare Daniel Kovarbasich prison time for the beating and stabbing death of a man he claimed was sexually molesting him and for reducing some prison sentences imposed by his predecessor on other defendants.

The judge also frequently clashed with county Prosecutor Dennis Will, whose office tried several times over the years to remove Burge from cases because of concerns he couldn’t be fair to certain prosecutors. Those efforts were largely unsuccessful, and Burge fended off an attempt by Will last year to bar him from hearing criminal cases.

Burge has been disqualified from serving as a judge since he was indicted in September and his docket is being handled by Visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny.

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

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