Chagrin Valley Times
February 22, 2017
Visiting Judge John J. Lohn harshly admonished Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy Grendell for going too far when he ordered a felony investigation of two Chester Township trustees last year after they voted against a revised agreement with the township park board.
Judge Lohn, a retired Medina County probate judge, was assigned by the Ohio Supreme Court to review master commissioner Mary Jane Trapp’s probe after one Chester trustee asked the high court to take Judge Grendell off the case claiming impartiality. Judge Grendell later stepped down voluntarily.
In looking at Judge Lohn’s detailed and well documented order, it is evident that an outside judge was needed to bring unbiased clarity to this complicated case.
Judge Lohn in his Feb. 2 order concluded that Judge Grendell’s “entries violate the separation of powers doctrine and are premised upon an improper judicial investigation.”
The case dates back to when Judge Grendell ordered Ms. Trapp to look into felony charges against Chester Trustees Michael Petruziello and Kenneth Radtke Jr. Judge Grendell accused the two trustees of committing fraud, contempt of court and intimidation by failing to approve an agreement with the park board and questioned whether they interfered with park operations. The Geauga judge did not include Trustee Bud Kinney, who voted in favor of the agreement, in this order.
Like numerous parks throughout Ohio, the Chester Township Park was created in 1984 under a section of state law that calls for the county probate judge to appoint park board members. Most judges make the appointments and then let park board members do their jobs.
Judge Grendell has attempted to exert his influence over this and other park districts around Geauga County. In reaction, local residents have been seeking help from higher authorities to rein in Judge Grendell.
Agree or disagree, Chester trustees in this case clearly were acting as they saw fit in regards to the agreement. There’s nothing criminal about that. Judge Lohn noted that accusations against trustees went beyond Judge Grendell’s authority in this situation.
Ordering the investigator to probe into new matters was a “highly irregular and erroneous process,” Judge Lohn stated. If Judge Grendell believed a felony had been committed by Chester trustees, he should have gone to the prosecutor, Judge Lohn concluded.
Ultimately, Judge Lohn said Chester trustees had done nothing to subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the probate court and were free as officials elected by residents to do their job as they saw fit. It is not the function of the court to dictate to other branches of government how they “follow through with the work that is their public duty,” the visiting judge stated.
Though Judge Grendell maintains he did nothing wrong, Judge Lohn was clear in his order that the Geauga judge went too far in this case.
This judicial overreach erodes the trust that voters placed in Judge Grendell when they elected him to the bench, and it diminishes the integrity that people expect of the judicial system.