Friday, July 19, 2019 Elyria 76°

Cops and Courts

Former judge Burge appealing corruption conviction


ELYRIA — Former Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge is appealing his criminal conviction.

The court documents filed Monday announcing Burge’s decision to appeal don’t explain what grounds Burge and his lawyers will use in their efforts to overturn a jury’s decision to find him guilty of falsification and tampering with records charges.

Attorney Michael Stepanik, who represents Burge, declined to go into specifics about what problems took place during Burge’s April trial. He said the 30-day window for Burge to appeal was about to close.

“We didn’t want to close the door on any options based on a deadline,” Stepanik said.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office prosecuted the case, declined to comment on Monday’s court filing.

The allegations against Burge focused on whether he had an interest in Whiteacre North, which he and his partners operated before he became a judge in 2007.

The company owns 600 Broadway in Lorain, where several local attorneys have their offices. Although Burge and his partners sold Whiteacre to lawyer Shimane Smith in 2007, the deal fell apart in 2011 and control of the company reverted to the original owners.

Prosecutors argued that Burge inappropriately approved payments to attorneys for representing indigent defendants between February and June 2011 when he transferred his ownership interest to his wife, Susan Burge.

Visiting Judge Dale Crawford dismissed charges related to those allegations, but left the jury to consider whether Burge had failed to report his ties to the company on financial disclosure forms he filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.

Jurors found Burge guilty of misdemeanor falsification and felony tampering with records charges, but Crawford later reduced the felonies to misdemeanors because of a problem with how the jury verdict forms were prepared.

Burge, who resigned shortly after the end of his trial, was sentenced to pay a $3,000 fine, although he has not yet done so because he wanted explore an appeal.

His law license automatically was suspended when he was found guilty of the felonies, but he has since asked the Supreme Court to reinstate his law license because they were later converted to misdemeanors.

Stepanik said it’s possible that prosecutors could file their own appeal seeking to have the felony charges reinstated.

Visiting Judge Thomas Pokorny has been handling Burge’s docket since Burge, a Democrat, was indicted in September.

Lorain County Republican Party Chairwoman Helen Hurst said her party has recommended three possible replacements to take over Burge’s old seat to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is responsible for filling judicial vacancies. Kasich is a Republican.

Hurst declined to identify who was suggested to Kasich, but she said the governor’s office told her a replacement would likely be named within a month. Whoever fills the seat will have to run to hold the seat in 2016 and the winner of that race would have to seek a full six-year judicial term in 2018.

A call to a Kasich spokesman seeking comment wasn’t returned Monday.

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