Wednesday, May 17, 2017

PROBATE COURT JUDGE DIXIE PARK: A SIMON LEGREE-ESQUE JUDGE?

SO SAYS LOCAL ATTORNEY & CIVIC ACTIVIST
CRAIG T. CONLEY



What started out as a unemployment compensation case on the issue of whether or not a staff attorney  (one, Michael F. Kelly) who recently worked of Stark County Court of Common Pleas (Probate Division) judge Dixie Park "quit" employment for "just cause" and therefore entitled to unemployment benefits, has taken on high stakes drama by virtue of hyperbolic metaphor used by the attorney's lawyer (Craig T. Conley) in a legal pleading in a case before Stark County Court of Common Pleas (General Division):  Judge Kristin Farmer.



As readers of The Stark County Political Report know, Conley has had a long standing ongoing acrimonious dispute with Judge Park on the manner in which she presides over Stark's probate court.

The SCPR has reported extensively on several cases in which Park presided and consequently has come to the point of view that she does not demonstrate the qualities that Stark Countians should want in a judge and that she should resign.

But she hasn't and presumably is not about to and it appears that it does not appear that any local [jurists have beseeched the Ohio Supreme Court to intervene to compel her removal.


Even if someone were to step forward to complain about Park to the Supreme Court, one wonders if the high court is up t[o negotiating a deal to get Part off the bench as it did in the case of Cleveland Municipal Court judge Angela Stokes.

There appear to be similarities between how Park and Stokes are said to have handled their respective courts, to wit:  (from the above link Cleveland.com [Plain Dealer, Naymik] article.

The disciplinary counsel's original complaint [2013], which alleged that Stokes had abused court staff, lawyers and defendants, triggered a trial in 2015 before a special panel of the Ohio Supreme Court's Board of Professional Conduct. The trial, which was held periodically rather than continuously, lasted more than eight weeks and likely would have continued well into 2016. (emphasis added)

Ultimately, it likely will be up to Stark County voters in the elections of 2020 to decide the question once and for all.

Both the Stark County GOP and Democratic political parties ought to be grooming candidates to challenge Park should she decide to run for reelection.


In addition to The Stark County Political Report's misgivings on Judge Park's legal competence as elaborated upon in the above-linked blogs, there are rampant allegations that she does not treat her employees.

Moreover, there are allegations that Judge Park has a list of "favored" attorneys, "unfavored" attorneys and those who fall in between favored/unfavored in their work in Judge Park's court.

Well, in the Kelly case, it appears that the "treatment of Probate Co-urt employees" in toto and Kelly in particular is the overriding issue on the question of whether or not Kelly was justified (as a matter of law given the facts of the case) in quitting his employment and still be entitled to collect unemployment benefits.

As the Kelly case unfolded, here is "the findings of fact," as spelled out in a Ohio Unemployment Review Commission (UCRC) decision of December 5, 2016 (appealed by Kelly on December 29, 2016).


And here is testimony by Kelly and another former Park employee (Carlton) as related in Kelly's appeal to the Court of Common Pleas—General Division:

Kelly

"... it was so stressful, not only fore me but I think for a lot of the employees.  We just always felt that we had to watch what we said or did, every little thing.  Like, we'd have to walking on egg shells, so to speak, so as not to set the judge off because at times, you know, she was prone to what I would view as irrational anger.  And so, we always had to watch every little thing that [we] were doing and it just got to be too much.

Also testifying was former probate court staff attorney Bradford Carlton who Conley described as having "no dog in the fight," to wit:

Carlton

"Judge Park has a habit of becoming irate over small matters and it was my perception and belief that if you screwed up you would be at risk of being fired at any moment and I had been in that position for several months under that air  of it I messed up in any way I could be fired and I just couldn't take the stress anymore."

It seems that perhaps the key reason that Kelly did not prevail at the administrative level was on account of his failure to avail himself of a Park generated Employee Handbook provision which is said to contain an "Open Door Policy" and an "Internal Complaint or Grievance Procedure" as an attempt to resolve his difficulty with Park short of quitting or getting fired.

Carlton

"... I have to admit that when I read (those two policies) I actually laughed outloud because I couldn't imagine anybody feeling comfortable going in expressing to her any concerns they had."

Conley also had others (two other attorney staff employees) prepared to testify on how terrible it is to work for Judge Park.

The UCRC affirmed the finding that Kelly (the complainant) and a supporting witness testimony to be credible, to wit:


CONLEY INJECTS "SIMON LEGREE" ANALOGY INTO CASE

In the back and forth of legal pleadings Conley (in his  apparently highly offended County Board of Commissioners legal counsel (Vivianne Duffrin, an assistant Stark County prosecutor) in comparing Judge Park— in employee relationships— to Uncle Tom's Cabin character Simon Legree (LINK to Villains Wikia for a description of Legree's conduct).

A side factor that came up in the pleadings included whether or not Park is an ethical judge (raised by Conley) is the matter of the his allegations of her having favored/unfavored attorney lists.

The triggering language in Conley's April 7, 2017 filed reply brief to Duffrin (having been filed on March 28th)  which got Duffrin's attention:

"Judge Park's aforesaid rather 'unpleasant' personality traits and attendant 'Simon Legree' managerial style aside  ... "

Legal counsel Susan Sheffield (an Ohio attorney general senior assistant) defending the original decision of "quit without just cause" determination of the Director, Ohio Jobs and Family Services as affirmed by the UCRC so far (filed her one and only response to day on March 17th) has not taken Conley to task for his "Simon Legree" comparison.

But Vivianne Duffrin could not contain herself.

On April 28th she filed this response:



It will be interesting to see what Judge Farmer does with Duffrin's Motion to Strike.

Among all of Stark County attorneys, Conley seems to have marked ability to linguistically spice cases up when a judge or opposing counsel gets his dander up.  Most notably he called Stark County Court of Common Pleas judge (General Division) a grandstander for his handling of a case for which Conley was subjected to a disciplinary complaint which did not result in his being disciplined.

In his sparing with Park, Conley does make persuasive arguments as to why Stark Countians ought to be embarrassed to have a judge like Park conducting herself in a manner in which she is accused.

Here we are in May, 2017 and Judge Park continues to demonstrate to The Stark County Political Report a continuing basis for having a belief that she should not be a sitting Stark County judge.

The SCRP renews a long standing call for Judge Dixie Park to resign.


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