The Ohio Supreme Court has reinstated former Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge’s law license.
The state’s highest court revoked Burge’s license in April shortly after a jury found him guilty of felony charges of tampering with records and misdemeanor charges of falsification stemming from allegations that there were discrepancies in his annual financial disclosure forms.
But Visiting Judge Dale Crawford later reduced the felony charges to misdemeanors because of an error in how he prepared the verdict forms used by the jury.
The Supreme Court automatically suspends the law licenses of attorneys who are convicted of felonies, but Burge argued that there shouldn’t have been a suspension because he was never sentenced on felony charges and therefore wasn’t actually convicted of a felony.
Instead, he contended in court filings, the Supreme Court prematurely suspended his license based only on the guilty verdicts.
The Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Burge, made public Monday, doesn’t preclude Burge from facing additional sanctions from the court’s disciplinary arm, which has had a long-running investigation into Burge’s time on the bench that predates the criminal probe conducted by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.
No formal ethics charges have ever been brought against Burge, but the confidential investigations seem to remain active based on the ruling signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
“It is further ordered that reinstatement of respondent shall not terminate any pending disciplinary proceedings against respondent,” O’Connor wrote.
Burge declined to comment Monday on the decision to reinstate his law license but has acknowledged that the high court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel is investigating him, including his ownership interest in Whiteacre North, the company that owns 600 Broadway, a Lorain office building where Burge’s law offices were before he became a judge in 2007.
Once he took the bench, Burge and his partners sold the company, but the deal fell apart in 2011.
Burge has said he sold his stake in the company to his wife for $1 in June 2011 after he realized ownership was reverting back to the original owners.
Prosecutors had accused him of improperly approving payments for court-appointed legal work to attorneys with office space there during the period of 2011 before he sold his interest to his wife, but those charges were thrown out by Crawford during the trial.
The charges he was convicted of centered on his failure to list his connections to the company on his disclosure forms.
The building is now vacant and has a for sale sign in the window. Lorain County Auditor Craig Snodgrass’ website lists the value of the property at $87,890.