Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Ohio Disciplinary Counsel has filed a complaint against a Probate Court judge who was in practice with his daughter when he ascended to the bench.
According to the complaint, she is presently the managing shareholder of his former firm with an active probate practice.
In 2017 - 2018, respondent engaged in an unsuccessful year-long effort to convince the Greene County Board of Commissioners and the Greene County Common Pleas Court General Division that the probate court needed a full-sized courtroom. During the contentious dispute, respondent issued an order that attempted to take control of a courtroom that the general division was utilizing.
In a probate matter
On January 1, 2018, Carolee Buccalo died. Carolee had named her granddaughter, Yvonne Martin (“Martin”), as executrix, and Martin retained [the judge's daughter] Brittany to represent her in administering the estate.
Carolee's son Grant signed three waivers of disqualification.
In May 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against Respondent in the courtroom dispute.
On May 23, 2019, [Grant] Buccalo attended a public meeting of the Greene County Board of Commissioners and expressed his belief that respondent should recuse himself from cases in which “family members” represent parties. He stated that “justice depends on the appearance as well as the reality of fairness in all things. Otherwise, it erodes public confidence in the legal system.” Buccalo further stated that people need to feel that they “got a fair shake” when they leave the courtroom, and that it “wasn’t rigged.”
At the meeting, Buccalo spoke before the commissioners regarding his concerns about respondent for approximately 2.5 minutes. He stated that he wanted to ensure that the commissioners were aware of this practice. Buccalo did not specifically mention his mother’s estate case or express concern about his own involvement with respondent, other than to say that he had never met respondent and wouldn’t recognize him. Buccalo concluded by stating that he planned to file a grievance with relator, and then moved on to speak about a second unrelated concern. The commissioners did not respond to Buccalo’s concerns.
Respondent then set a status hearing in the Buccalo matter after reviewing an audiotape of the remarks
On June 6, 2019, respondent presided over the status conference. Brittany, Martin, and Buccalo appeared in person. All parties were present in-person or by telephone. Buccalo was unrepresented and did not know the purpose of the status conference before attending.
Respondent thanked them “for showing up on such short notice” and explained that there was a “very disturbing incident that has taken place with the estate, and I need to get it today.
After playing the tape in open court
...respondent called Buccalo to the stand, placed him under oath, and informed him that any false statement constituted perjury, a criminal offense.
Respondent then cross-examined Buccalo for almost an hour on issues relating to the Waiver of Disqualification and Buccalo’s comments to the commissioners.
The examination allegedly brought Buccalo to tears.
After questioning Buccalo for almost an hour, respondent turned the questioning over to Brittany.
Brittany asked, “Do you expect that I should have known that you had an issue even though I received a signed waiver from you?” Buccalo attempted to explain his concerns and eventually responded by stating, “I’m not trying to argue with you.” And Brittany replied, “I am.” Respondent still permitted Brittany to proceed with her questioning of Buccalo.
Brittany cross-examined Buccalo relating to conversations and information of which he had no knowledge. She marked her personal notes of a phone conversation with Buccalo’s attorney as an exhibit and questioned Buccalo regarding the conversation and her notes, despite Buccalo not being a party to the conversation. Respondent did not curtail Brittany’s questioning in any way.
After being on the stand for over an hour, Buccalo asked for a glass of water. Respondent replied, “I don’t have any water.” He did not offer Buccalo a break or make any attempt to obtain water for him.
Respondent recused himself and allegedly made several statements
Respondent stated that Buccalo chose to be:
[U]ntruthful to you and the public, to unjustly smear myself and my daughter. That is simply despicable. We do not have a problem in probate court, what we have is a problem with people improperly using this board as a public forum to lodge unfounded and false accusations. I’m disappointed the board even permitted him to proceed in light of the fact * * * that [he was] cautioned * to limit his comments to items that are or have been on the board’s agenda at a regular meeting * * * This is not the proper forum to wage personal vendettas against any public official.
Respondent’s conduct, as alleged above, violated Jud.Cond.R. 2.8(B) [A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control].
The complaint is linked here. (Mike Frisch)