ELYRIA — The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a woman sentenced to 30 days in Lorain County Jail for contempt of court be released immediately while the court looks into the matter.
On Sept. 21, Domestic Relations Judge Frank Janik sentenced Lindsey Eberhardt, of Avon Lake, to 30 days in jail for contempt of court after Eberhardt repeatedly went against Janik’s court order regarding visitation, according to court documents.
This week, Eberhardt’s attorney, Jonathan Rosenbaum, filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Ohio Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court, in an order signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, ordered Eberhardt released.
The order is the latest in a custody battle that has raged since 2010 between Eberhardt and Melva and Scott Sherwood and has included an attorney appointed by the court as guardian ad litem becoming romantically involved with Eberhardt, accusations of a grandmother examining the feces of the children and private investigators being hired to watch the other side, according to court documents.
The start of the case precedes Janik taking the bench, which he did in 2013.
While the order temporarily stays any further proceedings in the case and Eberhardt’s sentence, it doesn’t necessarily mean the higher court believes Janik acted improperly, according to Judge James Walther, who serves as presiding judge over the Lorain County Common Pleas Court.
“I don’t think the Supreme Court is making any determination that Judge Janik was right or that he was wrong,” Walther said. “They’re not making any kind of decision on the merits. They’re just saying that by the time they get to a hearing on the matter, her sentence could be over, which would make this meaningless.”
Janik said Friday that due to the case being a pending matter, he was unable to comment on it.
Eberhardt was held in contempt for not allowing the Sherwoods, who are the mother and stepfather of Eberhardt’s late husband, Andrew Weaver, their court-ordered visitation rights of Eberhardt and Weaver’s two sons. The two sides previously had agreed to allow the boys to stay with the Sherwoods one weekend a month, according to court documents.
The custody battle began in September 2010 when the Sherwoods filed a complaint for legal custody of the children, who lived with Eberhardt and Weaver at the time. In the spring of the next year, the Sherwoods filed an alternate motion for grandparent visitation with the boys.
The two sides reached an agreement in the fall of 2011 resolving the complaint for custody and grandparent visitation. At that time, the Sherwoods were given one weekend a month with the boys.
On Oct. 3, 2012, Weaver died of a heroin overdose, which caused problems between Eberhardt and Melva Sherwood, according to court documents. In 2014 and 2015, the two sides began filing motions to modify the visitation time, terminate visitation and alter custody.
Eberhardt alleged that during the visitations, Melva Sherwood would not allow the children to flush the toilet so she could examine their feces. Melva Sherwood also was accused of weighing the children without clothes on because she was concerned the children were not getting the proper nourishment in their mother’s care. There were also reports of a private investigator being hired to look into the personal life of Eberhardt, according to court documents.
The Sherwoods argued about the boys’ nutrition and also that the boys weren’t receiving the proper education from their mother home schooling them, according to court documents.
With accusations flying from both sides, in November 2015, the court-appointed attorney James Barilla to serve as guardian ad litem for the children, which is a person chosen to look into what solutions would be in the “best interests of the children.”
But in June of 2016, the Sherwoods filed a motion to remove Barilla as guardian ad litem, saying he treated the Sherwoods in a “very aggressive, threatening and demeaning” manner, according to court documents. Barilla “argued with them incessantly, talked over them and refused to read documents they brought,” court documents said, which caused Melva Sherwood to ask if Barilla was Eberhardt’s attorney.
The court ultimately denied the motion to remove Barilla and later ordered the Sherwoods to pay $11,836 of the guardian ad litem fees while Eberhardt was to pay $2,959.
The Sherwoods argued that Barilla’s “itemization of his fees was highly suspect,” such as “it showed that Barilla spent an unusual amount of time with Eberhardt, including charging for eating ice cream with Eberhardt and her children.”
A trial was held in 2016 on whether the Sherwoods’ visitation rights should be terminated. Janik ruled in favor of the Sherwoods but gave stipulations on the visits regarding Melva Sherwood not weighing the children, examining their feces and so on.
In 2017, the court became aware that Barilla and Eberhardt were involved in a romantic relationship and that Eberhardt and her children were living with Barilla. The Sherwoods questioned when exactly the relationship had started.
The Sherwoods’ attorney asked for depositions from Eberhardt and Barilla on when the relationship began, but both failed to provide the information. Barilla also tried to represent Eberhardt as an attorney, but the court didn’t allow it, according to court documents.
This year, Eberhardt began canceling the visitations with the Sherwoods, which cause the grandparents to petition the court to force the matter. The court ordered Eberhardt to allow the grandparents their visitation, but she refused.
A magistrate ordered Eberhardt to grant the Sherwoods visitation in August and also begin making up some of the missed visits or she would be found in contempt and sentenced to jail. Eberhardt again refused.
According to a court transcript, Janik offered Eberhardt one last deal Sept. 21.
“Miss Eberhardt, you are going to jail today for your contemptuous conduct,” Janik said. “Now please listen to me for the sake of your children. I will give you one more chance to show this court that you can follow its orders, and I will give you a choice as to how you will be serving those 30 days of jail.”
Janik told Eberhardt she could report to Lorain County Jail that night at 5 p.m. after dropping off her children with the Sherwoods. She would then be released from jail two days later at 5 p.m. and could pick her children up. If she did that, he said, the other 28 days of the sentence would be suspended; otherwise, she would serve the whole 30-day sentence.
Eberhardt declined, saying she couldn’t follow the order because she felt it put her children in danger, and was taken into custody by deputies. When Janik asked her where the children were so the Sherwoods could pick them up and take custody while she was in jail, she refused to tell him, according to the transcript.