Geauga Maple Leaf
November 17, 2016 by John Karlovec
For the second time in as many months, Geauga County Probate Court Judge Tim Grendell has stepped down from presiding over a controversial township park district matter in his court.
Last month, Grendell agreed to recuse himself from reviewing a master commissioner’s report on whether Chester Township Trustees Ken Radtke and Mike Petruziello committed fraud, interference, contempt of court and felony retaliation and deprivation of civil rights in failing to sign a revised management agreement for Parkside Park.
In September, Grendell had ordered court-appointed Master Commissioner Mary Jane Trapp to investigate the trustees’ actions after they voted in August not to enter into a new agreement with the township park board and to terminate the current management agreement, entered into in 1993, effective Dec. 31.
The judge questioned whether Radtke and Petruziello voted against signing the revised contract because the township lost an earlier fight in the Ohio Supreme Court over his ability to issue orders to enforce the entry creating the park district, including orders that impose duties on those interfering with the park district’s purposes.
In a 35-page affidavit filed with the supreme court Oct. 7, Radtke asked Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to remove Grendell from presiding over the ongoing 1984 probate court case establishing the Chester Township Park District because of perceived bias, prejudice and partiality.
“While the court maintains its judicial impartiality bearing no ill will, bias, prejudice or animosity towards any party in the matter, the court is concerned that the delay caused by Mr. Radtke’s filing could adversely affect Master Commissioner Mary Jane Trapp’s . . . investigation into the Chester Township Park District,” Grendell wrote in an Oct. 31 judgment entry recusing himself from reviewing Trapp’s report.
A week earlier, Grendell had filed a 13- page response to Radtke’s request arguing his disqualification was unwarranted. He said, among other things, Radtke has refused to accept the supreme court’s April 2016 decision that Grendell claims gives him the authority to stop persons from unlawfully interfering with the operation and purpose of the township park district.
When asked why Grendell voluntarily agreed to step down one week after opposing his attempted removal, Kimberly Laurie, the probate court’s budget/fiscal director and county liaison, told the Geauga County Maple Leaf in a Nov. 3 email that Trapp had informed Grendell she “couldn’t continue with her investigation while the supreme court decision was pending.”
“Therefore, not wanting to delay her investigation by waiting for the supreme court decision, Judge (Grendell) decided to recuse himself so that her investigation could continue,” Laurie said.
On Oct. 31, O’Connor entered an order dismissing Radtke’s affidavit as moot because Grendell voluntarily recused him- self. The chief justice did agree, however, not only to assign a visiting judge — retired Medina County Probate Court Judge John J. Lohn — to hear and review Trapp’s report, but also to preside over all future proceedings relating to those findings.
O’Connor did not respond to numerous requests asking whether she or any at the supreme court spoke with Grendell or any- one in his court regarding Radtke’s affidavit.
“I continue to believe that Judge Grendell is the more appropriate person to ask,” Bret Crow, PIO manager for the supreme court, said in a Nov. 7 email to the Maple Leaf.
Laurie’s Nov. 3 email to the Maple Leaf did not contain a response to that question.
Also, Radtke forwarded the Maple Leaf’s request for comment on Grendell’s recusal to the township’s attorney, who did not respond with any comment.
In August, Russell Township Trustee Jim Mueller filed a similar affidavit of disqualification seeking to remove Grendell from presiding over an investigation as to whether township trustees had interfered with the Russell Township Park District’s efforts to purchase Modroo Farms.
Grendell agreed to step down in that case because Mueller produced evidence that Grendell had made negative public comments about him.
The township park board ultimately with- drew its request for a hearing after it reached an agreement to purchase more than 50 acres of the Modroo property.
Chester Township also has pending before the 11th District Court of Appeals an appeal of a June 22 order Grendell issued prohibiting the township from exercising certain rights under the 1993 management agreement.
On Sept. 1, the appellate court agreed to stay enforcement of the June 22 order until it could decide whether Grendell exceeded his authority in voiding provisions of a contract between two independent political subdivisions.
Despite the stay, Radtke said Grendell ordered Trapp’s investigation.