ELYRIA — Former Common Pleas Judge James Burge on Friday appealed his conviction on misdemeanor charges of falsification and tampering with records.
In a brief filed Friday with the 9th District Court of Appeals, Burge asked the appellate court to overturn his conviction on three counts of each of the charges on the grounds that his convictions were based on insufficient evidence.
Burge also alleged that the trial court erred in overruling his motion for a judgment of acquittal, and further erred in denying his motion to merge multiple counts on each charge as they all dealt with similar offenses.
Burge’s attorney, Michael E. Stepanik, argued in the brief that “the jury, in resolving conflicts in the evidence, clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice” as to demand the conviction be overturned.
Burge was found guilty in April during a trial presided over by visiting Judge Dale Crawford.
Allegations against Burge stemmed from questions over his interests in Whiteacre North, a Lorain company Burge and his business partners ran prior to his being elected to the bench in 2007.
The business venture owned commercial space at 600 Broadway in downtown Lorain, where a number of local attorneys who appeared before him in court maintained offices.
Burge and his business associates sold the company to attorney Shimane Smith in 2007, but that transaction fell apart in 2011 when Smith and his wife backed out of the sale, which led to control of the firm reverting to Burge and his associates.
County prosecutors argued Burge inappropriately approved payments to lawyers representing indigent defendants between February and June of 2011, when Burge transferred his interests in Whiteacre North to his wife, Susan Burge.
Crawford dismissed charges relating to those allegations but a jury was instructed to decide whether Burge failed to report his ties to the company via financial disclosure forms filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Jurors found Burge guilty of multiple felony counts of falsification and tampering with records, but Crawford reduced the charges to misdemeanors because of errors made in the way the jury verdict forms were prepared.
Soon after the conviction — and before the charges on which he was convicted were reduced to misdemeanors — Burge resigned from the bench. He was sentenced to pay a $3,000 fine.
His law license automatically was suspended upon his conviction, but it has since been reinstated by the Ohio Supreme Court, which sided with Burge’s argument that misdemeanor charges do not result in an automatic suspension of one’s law license.
In the appeal, Burge contends that although he was negligent in not listing Lorain National Bank — which held the mortgage on the Whiteacre property — on a 2011 financial disclosure statement, his failure to do so was not intentional and did not constitute falsification.
The appeal further contends that since Burge’s failure to list Lorain National Bank as a creditor was not deliberate, then a charge of tampering with records could not be proven because there was no evidence demonstrating any intent to “deceive” or defraud” by the omission.
The appeal also argued that Crawford’s remarks to Burge when the defendant was sentenced were further indication that insufficient evidence was presented to support a conviction.
Crawford’s “gracious remarks” to Burge at the conclusion of the trial, according to the appeal, included statements that Burge should not have resigned based on the charges he was convicted of, and that he should not have lost his seat on the bench, or his law license, as a result.
Burge’s conviction was based on allegations of wrongdoing originally brought to County Prosecutor Dennis Will in 2013 by Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery, whom Burge has said he will challenge in next year’s election.
None of Rothgery’s allegations against Burge led to the charges eventually returned by a special grand jury, which originally totaled 12 counts including multiple charges of having an unlawful interest in a public contract and soliciting improper compensation. Those charges later were dismissed.