(SCPR Note: instances of enlarge type, color text, italicized text and bold text in quoted material used in this blog is added by The Report for emphasis sake)
As readers of The Stark County Political Report know, The Report abhors anybody running for public office without opposition.
Even though she has only been a judge for ten years, it appears that the Stark County organized Democratic Party thinks Park (link to bio) has done such a terrific job at being Stark County Court of Common Pleas - Probate Division - judge that former chairman Randy Gonzalez and his cohorts (likely including current chairman Phil Giavasis) decided to give Park a pass this election.
Or it could be that members of the Stark County bar are so utterly intimidated by Judge Park that none have the intestinal fortitude to take her on as participants in America's electoral process on account of fearing reprisal in their probate court casework should a challenge to Park remaining in office fail?
And "to be taken on" in an election in which her record as a judge can get out into the voting Stark County public is the way in which - in our democratic system in the preferred way - Judge Park should be removed from office.
But, of course, "that ain't going to happen" in 2014 and the only alternative is for Judge Park to resign or the Ohio Supreme Court via disciplinary proceedings to step in and remove her from office.
The SCPR does think that the likelihood of Park resigning is between "slim and none and 'slim' just left town."
Park's chief "willing to go public" in order to hold Park accountable for her - what the SCPR believes is an - "over-the-top" handling of an ordinary Stark County citizen, is, of course, Stark County Political Report favorite Craig T. Conley.
By the way of disclaimer, SCPR readers need to know that Conley and Park have had a highly acrimonious relationship over recent years on cases that he has or has had pending before Park in Stark County's probate court.
Although the SCPR has been aware of the troubled person/professional relationship between the two, the SCPR does not generally write blogs about such matters.
But the Finan case and the consequences (i.e. jail time) of an "unlawful decision" (according to the Fifth District Court of Appeals) to an ordinary Stark Countian is something that the SCPR cannot abide and nor should the Stark County public.
Stark Countians should appreciate Conley's willingness to step forward.
He coined the expression "Zeigergate" (2009 through 2011) as a one-word-term to describe what he thought to be series of government process/safeguard/accountability shortfalls which resulted in Stark County taxpayers losing nearly $3 million as a consequence of a theft by former Stark County chief deputy treasurer Vince Frustaci.
Conley was the leader of a movement that resulted in the rollback by Stark County voters of a Stark County commissioner "imposed" 1/2 cent sales tax increase (December, 2008) in the election of November, 2009.
Conley has been a major factor in holding Stark County Democratic Party Central Committee sheriff appointee George T. Maier accountable to the law of Ohio in terms of his being qualified to hold the office of sheriff, appointed or elected.
- SCPR Note: For his effort in reining Judge Forchione in, Conley had to suffer the indignity and perhaps a threat on his license to practice law in Ohio in the cowardly filing of a disciplinary complaint on account of Conley terming Forchione's action as being a case of "grandstanding."
- Ohio disciplinary authorities rejected the complaint.
Stark County elected officials and political party officials may think that the national discontent with Congress does not carry over to local politics.
But if they do, they are wrong.
Witness the overall average of 13.9% of registered voters who voted in the May, 2014 primary election.
Conley moreover has successfully challenged the city of Massillon in promoting George T. Maier's son to the rank of sergeant over another - more qualified candidate; this according to Ohio law and union/city contract language as found by Ohio's 5th District Court of Appeals.
The Stark County Political Report and Conley constitute Stark County's most courageous and effective factors in holding public office holders accountable for their governance actions.
And like the SCPR, The Report thinks it is not a question of personal like/dislike with Conley but rather a matter of "the rule of law" over "the rule of men/women" who govern on the basis of personal whim/caprice and thereby:
- everyday citizens,
- the taxpaying public, and
- in some instances, public employees, and
- more generally, violate the public trust that elected officials will operate in the public interest
But the "crowning event" in Conley being willing to seek the removal of Park from office surfaced with the August 18, 2014 decision (adverse to Judge Park by a 3 to 0 vote) of the primarily Canton-based Fifth District Court of Appeals in a case of In re matter of Finan, 2014-Ohio-3572.
Tomorrow, in Part Two of this series, the SCPR plans on sharing with Stark Countians Conley's answers to question posed by The Report with regard to matters that he thinks - in addition to In re: Finan - as being reasons why Judge Park should no longer be Stark County's Probate Court judge.
To The Report the facts of In re: Finan are absolutely shocking and the SCPR thinks that once the Stark County general public becomes aware of them, they might well join Conley and other public figures and elected officials (the latter of whom often lack the courage to take a public position) and insist that Judge Park step down.
What are the "shocking" unfolding of events/factual findings in In re Finan?
From the 5th District Court of Appeals case:
- Ms. Barbara Lockhart (Lockhart) held a power of attorney (POA) for a ward of the court; namely, Donald Finan (Finan),
- August 8, 2013: The probate court (Court) appointed "limited" guardian filed a motion with the Court asking that the Court revoke the POA.
- August 12, 2103: The Court sent a notice of the motion to Lockhart via ordinary mail [to be distinguished form "certified mail - return receipt requested] to two different Alliance addresses (i.e. Union and Norman) three days before a "scheduled hearing" on the motion,
- August 15, 2013: At the "scheduled hearing" The Court grants the motion. Lockhart was not present at the hearing.
- The Court also:
- Orders that Lockhart appear before the Court 12 days later and give a full accounting for expenditures made by Lockhart under the POA for Finan,
- That the order for appearance be served on Lockhart at both addresses by certified and ordinary mail,
- The Court record shows that only "ordinary" mail mailings of the notice to appear were sent,
- August 27, 2013 (12 days after the 08/15/2013 hearing): Lockhart does not appear at the August 27th scheduled hearing,
- The Court then:
- sets another hearing for seven days later (September 3, 2013) ordering Lockhart to appear: (personal service ordered)
- to make the accounting, and,
- sets yet another hearing date (September 17, 2013) for Lockhart:
- "to show cause" why she should not be held "in contempt of court" for not showing up to the August 27th hearing, and
- Lockhart in the notice was told that should she fail to appear on September 17th,
- she would be subject to arrest and on that possibility she also was notified that,
- she was entitled to seek legal assistance from the Stark County Public defender or, alternatively, she could ask the Court to appoint counsel so long as she sought to have legal counsel so long as she applied within three (3) days of receiving notification of the September 17th hearing, but that
- She might not be granted a continuance of the September 17 hearing date if the Court found she had not made a "good faith attempt" to obtain legal counsel, and that
- she could be subjected to a fine and imprisonment should she be found guilty of contempt of court on September 17th
- September 5, 2013: The Court repeated its September 3rd orders and ordered personal service but at a Beeson Street (Alliance) address; abandoning the Union Street address,
- September 9, 2013, personal service at the Beeson Street address was returned to the Court,
- September 17, 2013, hearing results:
- Lockhart appeared and explained:
- she did not get any of the prior to September 5th notices,
- she indicated that she had expended under the POA "to buy items or pay bills associated with a home occupied by Finan's daughter."
- Judge Park:
- continued the hearing to September 24, 2013, and
- "ordered Lockhart to provide specific documents, bank statements, and the power of attorney documents,"
- "indicated Lockhart’s failure to appear and bring the required documentation may result in a finding of contempt," and
- ordered that notice of the September 17th orders be served via ordinary and certified mail on Lockhart at Norman and Beeson Street,
- September 24, 2013:
- Lockhart fails to show up for this hearing,
- the attorney (Bellew) for Finan's daughter asks for a continuance but is denied,
- September 25, 2013:
- Judge Park:
- issued a judgment entry ... and found Lockhart in contempt for failing to appear and produce the documentation as instructed at the September 17th hearing"
- "The trial court also issued a bench warrant for Lockhart,"
- "The judgment entry provided that Lockhart could purge her contempt by appearing on October 2, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. at the Stark County Probate Court and providing the specific documentation set forth in the judgment entry,"
- October 1, 2013:
- Lockhart is arrested pursuant to Park's September 25th bench warrant, and
- transported to the Stark County jail,
- October 2, 2013 hearing:
- Lockhart is brought from the jail to Park's court for the hearing,
- Lockhart says:
- she did not have the documents that the Court had ordered her to produce (reference: August 15, 2013 hearing), and
- she did not appear at the September 24th hearing because:
- she understood that Attorney Bellew would be representing her at the hearing, and
- he had asked for a continuance,
- To which Park responded:
- that there was no indication in the record that Bellew was representing Lockhart on the 24th, and
- there was no written motion for continuance in the Court record,
- whereupon, Park,
- found Lockhart "in contempt of court,
- fined her $250,
- sentenced her to 30 days in the Stark County jail
- (Note: Lockhart was "conditionally" released from jail on October 11th on Lockhart's motion to suspend sentence.)
So when Stark County-based appellate judges Gwin (who wrote the opinion), Hoffman and Wise sustained Lockhart attorney Jeff Jakmides' two assignments of error, to wit:
“I. THE LOWER COURT’S ACTION IN FINDING MS. LOCKHART IN CONTEMPT OF COURT WAS AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION, AND AS SUCH SHOULD BE REVERSED. THERE WAS NO SHOWING OF INTENT TO DEFY THE COURT, AND BY ISSUING A WARRANT FOR APPELLANT’S ARREST THE COURT ACTIVELY PREVENTED THE APPELLANT FROM COMPLYING WITH THE ORDER IN QUESTION.it became apparent to the SCPR that Park's handling of the matter, in which "as a matter of law" an innocent woman spent 11 days in jail, was tantamount to being a legal outrage.
"II. THE LOWER COURT DENIED MS. LOCKHART HER RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS BY FAILING TO INFORM HER OF HER RIGHT TO COUNSEL AND BY FORCING HER TO TESTIFY AT THE OCTOBER 2, 2013 HEARING.”
For the perpetuating judge to run unopposed in the upcoming November election is also an indictment of a monumental failure of the Stark County Democratic and Republican parties to ensure body politic accountability.
The SCPR has other allegations that Judge Park has a track record of "going off the 'legal' reservation" in the discharge of her official duties.
A previously stated in this blog, tomorrow's Part Two of the mini-series blog will get into the specifics of those charges.
One can only hope that Park will own up to her grievous mistakes of judgement and do the right thing by Stark Countians: "resign her judgeship."
But don't bank on it.
Readers of the SCPR will recall that Jakmides represented Marlboro police chief Ron Devies (and former Stark County judge Dick Reinbold, his son) when they faced felony charges for what The Report thinks was nothing more than a communications problem between them and a couple of members of the-then Marlboro Board of Township Trustees.
In the Devies case, now retired Judge V. Lee Sinclair did the right thing. He dismissed the case on the motion of Jakmides (and Dick Reinbold, for the son) for dismissal in that the prosecution had not sustained its burden of making out an prima facie "on the face of it" case.
Being the high quality jurist he is, Sinclair granted the motion
Though the Devies family suffered because of what the SCPR thinks was miscarriage of justice that could have been and should have been solved short of prosecution by the Stark County prosecutor's office; such was not the case in In re: Finan.
Barbara Lockhart did go the jail.
While the 5th District Court of Appeals did not use hyperbolic language in its opinion, the Court did use some very pointed legal parlance in chastising Judge Park for her errant ways, to wit: (restructured for clarity sake)
- In this case, Lockhart failed to appear at the September 24th hearing and failed to produce the documents as required by the court’s prior order. Lockhart’s acts occurred outside the presence of the trial court and therefore must be characterized as indirect contempt.
- The actions in this case do not rise to the level of a serious threat to orderly proceedings that required an immediate sanction to preserve the dignity and authority of the court.
- There is nothing in the record to indicate Lockhart’s actions rose to the level of summary contempt.
- Accordingly, since Lockhart was found in indirect criminal contempt,
- she had the right to notice of the charges,
- the right to defend oneself and be heard,
- the right to counsel, and
- the right that there be proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
- In this case, there is no evidence the trial court made the necessary finding that the contempt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Further, at the hearing on October 2, 2013, Lockhart was not informed of her right to counsel and did not intelligently or understandingly reject an offer of counsel.
It would be easy for Stark Countians in general to ignore the misfortune of one fellow citizen at the hand of a judge who, according to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, does not know the law on the matter of what is and what is not jailable contempt.
But does the SCPR need to get pointed to each and every citizen of Stark County with an adaptation of a saying?
"There but for the grace of God potentially go each and every Stark Countian" who might have the occasion to appear in the courtroom of Judge Dixie Park.
on September 18th immediately past Judge Park was the speaker at Mount Union University in celebration of the University's annual Constitution Day celebration.
And remember, one of Jakmides' assignments of error?
"... DENIED MS LOCKHART HER RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS ... "
A denial on which the Fifth District Court of Appeal partially based its decision to reverse Judge Park.
A Constitutional Law Day speaker?