On August 13, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio suspended the law license of former Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge James M. Burge. Burge was convicted of crimes related to his failure to disclose his interest in office buildings on his financial disclosure forms while sitting on the bench and then assigning paid legal work to attorneys who rented office space from him.
Burge was suspended for one year with six (6) months stayed. He was also given credit for three (3) months and three (3) weeks that he had served under an interim suspension issued in April 2015 for his convictions for tampering with records and falsification.
The Supreme Court of Ohio deemed the sanction given sufficient since Burge’s misconduct occurred while he was on the bench and he has resigned from the bench. It believes Burge’s misconduct will not recur. In Ohio, a judge must have a license to practice law in good standing to maintain his position on the bench.
While a sitting judge, Burge was charged with 12 counts of criminal conduct. A jury convicted him of three misdemeanor falsification charges and three felony tampering charges. A visiting judge dismissed the remainder of the charges. One month later, the felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors.
Burge also made disparaging remarks to convicted criminals appearing before him. He told one man he “would have paid 50 bucks to give you a beating before you went.” To another man, he remarked: “Now if I were to believe you were that stupid, James, I would just have Deputy Motelewski shoot you right now, because I know you’re not going to make it through life.” In a letter written on court stationery, Burge characterized the proposed bill of a former General Assembly representative as “nothing more than the hobgoblin of a small-minded, mouth-breathing, Tea Party type whose political style and abilities uniquely qualify him to do nothing.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Kennedy’s dissent stated that she would have imposed a two-year suspension with one year stayed for such conduct.
Disciplinary Counsel v. Burge, 2019-Ohio-3205.