ELYRIA — Lorain County Domestic Relations Judge Frank Janik said fellow Domestic Relations Judge Lisa Swenski sent threatening text messages to him after he and his wife donated money to one of Swenski’s opponents in the May Democratic primary.
Swenski is running for re-election against three opponents — Magistrate Charlita Anderson White and criminal defense attorneys Jack Bradley and Michael Duff. Janik, who is also a Domestic Relations judge, also is running for re-election, but he has no opponent in the May primary or in the November general election so far.
Janik said Swenski made threats that she is working to get an independent candidate to run against Janik in November. The deadline for independent candidates to file with the Board of Elections is 4 p.m. May 7.
Swenski also told Janik she was going to hang a photo depicting Janik’s wife, Assistant County Prosecutor Nikki Janik, standing with Bradley in her office for other judges to see.
According to the text messages Frank Janik shared Friday with The Chronicle-Telegram, Swenski sent a group text to him, Court Administrator Jody Barilla and county Domestic Relations Judge Sherry Glass at 4:38 p.m. Thursday.
Candidates had to file campaign finance reports by 4 p.m. Thursday.
“Well this is awkward: After Frank pitched a fit about a magistrate running within our court, I see Frank & his staff gave her money which Sherry & her staff did not,” the text message from Swenski said. “I also have framed my special Niiki (sic)& Jack picture. It’s going to b in my office for every sitting judge to see … for the next 6 years.”
Three minutes later, Janik responded: “Very classy. Good to hear you keep track of those things contrary to what you stated last night.”
Janik said he was referring to the Lorain County Bar Association’s Judicial Candidates Night on Wednesday at Elyria High School. During that event, Swenski responded to something Duff said during his opening statement about his belief judges accepting campaign donations from attorneys leads to corruption in the justice system.
“I can’t think of a judge who is currently on the bench, who would allow their decision to be altered by how much money someone gave them,” Swenski said at the event. “I have no idea … I don’t even want to know who has given to me. My treasurer will file that report tomorrow, and that’ll be the end of that. I don’t want to know, because some selfish part of you will decide, ‘Oh, that’s the one that went to my opponents. I don’t play that game. I haven’t done it for five years as judge. I didn’t do it for four years as a magistrate; didn’t do it as a lawyer.”
At 4:44 p.m., Swenski sent another text message to Janik, Glass and Barilla.
“Hey Frank, maybe u want to take me to one of your quiet cafes where we can have a one on one talk w/ no witnesses and then u can deny everything or claim it’s a misunderstanding,” the text message said. “Yeah, I had to check oppos filing b/c I had to confirm that u r not the political genius of your family. See u around Fredo. May 7, 4pm, BOE. Already started.”
Janik responded with, “Had a great time make enemies but OK.”
He told The Chronicle he mistyped and had meant to say, “Great time to make enemies, but OK.”
In the text exchange, neither Glass nor Barilla responded. Glass did not return calls Friday.
Janik said he had reservations when he heard Anderson White was planning to run for Swenski’s seat.
“When I first heard about Charlita Anderson White running, I expressed to (Swenski and Glass) concern that I was worried about the workplace environment,” he said. “I wondered how people would behave in the work environment given there were competing candidates going for the same job working just down the hall from each other.”
He also provided a written statement on why he decided to make the text messages from Swenski public.
“I am going public with these communications for several reasons,” Janik said. “First, I firmly believe and the law provides that anyone may go to a political function if they so chose, and no one including people in positions of power and certainly not a judge, can threaten or retaliate against anyone for exercising this right.”
Janik said he has heard Swenski is engaging in intimidating and bullying tactics and he believes “the public has a right to know how she is running her campaign.”
“If she is willing to threaten and retaliate against someone of equal position like me, then I have concern for what she has done and is doing to people of lesser position and power than her,” Janik said. “Thirdly, Swenski has stated that she has a framed picture of my wife, who is an assistant Lorain County prosecutor that has appeared in her court, with one of her opponents from a fundraiser and will be hanging it on the judge’s office wall for the next six years to remind her of this slight and her political vendetta.”
Janik donated $25 to Anderson White at a fundraiser, campaign finance reports show. He also donated $150 to Swenski’s campaign and $175 for Bradley’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
Swenski told The Chronicle she didn’t make any threats toward Janik or his wife.
“I had a direct and private communication with a fellow judge regarding his lack of honesty,” Swenski said in a text message. “Nobody was threatened.”
She also provided The Chronicle with copies of the text exchange between her and Janik. When asked why she referred to Janik as ‘‘Fredo” in the message, she responded, “No comment.”
Janik said he felt it was a reference to the movie “The Godfather: Part II” in which one of the characters, Fredo Corleone, double crosses his brother, Michael Corleone.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he will look into the allegations next week and see if his office needs to take any action pertaining to any possible threats made to Nikki Janik.
Janik said he also believes the public “has the right to know that if or when I have an opponent file against me, it will be a flunkie of Judge Swenski’s who is running to pursue a political vendetta.”
He also said he has contacted the Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel regarding the communications between Swenski and him.
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