Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Three judges pay back Ohio after watchdog complains

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Three judges who face complaints by a judicial watchdog for allegedly overbilling counties where they have served as visiting judges have paid back the state.

        David Palmer, a Powell resident who heads a one-man judicial watchdog group he calls the Committee to Expose Dishonest and Incompetent Attorneys and Judges, claims the three, and many others, still owe the state thousands more.

        Mr. Palmer filed the theft-in-office felony complaints against nine retired judges this month in Franklin County Municipal Court. He previously filed a complaint against Stephen Yarbrough, a former Lucas County Common Pleas judge. Hearings were set for Thursday and May 30.

        William Chinnok of Westlake paid $816, and Judith Cross of Medina and Harry Hanna of University Heights each paid $402 to the Ohio Supreme Court, said Regina Koehler, the court's spokeswoman.

        Judge Chinnok and Judge Cross did not return phone messages seeking comment Monday.

        Judge Hanna said he has reviewed his and the court's records since sending the check and has found that he was, in fact, entitled to all the money he received.

        According to court documents, Judge Hanna worked Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, but was paid twice for Feb. 1 and not at all for Jan. 31.

        “The bottom line is, I didn't catch it. It was an innocent mistake,” Judge Hanna said, noting he'll try to get his money back. “I hope they don't cash the check!”

        Mr. Palmer said the amount the judges paid back is only a fraction of what they owe.

        “This is the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” he said.

        Upon retirement, judges can offer to preside in courtrooms where there are shortages of judges, or Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer recruits them to help out.

        Mr. Palmer claims the retired judges overbilled 32 counties up to $50,000 in stipends, meals and lodging. He said that many charged the state twice in one day when the Ohio Supreme Court allows judges to be paid only for one day's work no matter how many hours they worked or cases they handled.

        Two other judges who aren't targeted in Mr. Palmer's complaints, Lawrence Grey of Lexington and Robert Lawther of Cleveland, also have reimbursed the state after routine records checks by the Ohio Supreme Court's fis cal office turned up clerical errors in their billings.

        Judge Grey paid back $437, while Judge Lawther reimbursed the state for $202.

        “I certainly didn't intend to put wrong expenses down. It wasn't anything intentional. I'm an honest guy,” Judge Lawther said. “Meantime, I heard about this guy in the Columbus area (Mr. Palmer) and I wanted to avoid any difficulty from him.”

        Judge Grey did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

        Mr. Palmer, a retired Army court reporter, said he expects to file complaints against about 40 other judges.

        “I'm going to keep doing this until I bring them to their knees,” Mr. Palmer said, noting that his goal is to “get rid of every dishonest judge if I possibly can.”


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