Letters to Editor—Chagrin Valley Times, July 11, 2019

Is social media part of job?

Following newspapers’ reports on the dispute between the Geauga County Auditor Chuck Walder and the Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell, the Court Administrator, Kimberly Laurie, saw fit to engage with people on Facebook, using her personal Facebook account, during working hours. When I questioned her about this, she stated: “I am the court’s media contact, which includes social media.” I have obtained a copy of the job description for court administrator, and it does not include being the court’s media contact or engaging on Facebook during working hours.

As a taxpayer, I am appalled that a public servant who makes $100,000 annually is spending work time that I have paid for on Facebook, using her personal Facebook account. How unprofessional. Based on annual reports, the Probate/Juvenile Court’s administration expenses have gone from $987,903.76 in 2010 (under Judge Chip Henry) to $1,483,623.10 in 2018 (under Judge Grendell). That’s more than a 50-percent increase. What are we getting for this extra money? Social media engagement?

Unfortunately, what we are getting is an overpaid, underqualified court administrator. Under Judge Henry, the court administrator was an experienced attorney with a J.D. I’m speculating, but I seriously doubt that he spent time during his workday monitoring social media. The current court administrator, Ms. Laurie, who has a B.A. in psychology, had no experience or training in law or court administration prior to being hired as budget coordinator/county liaison in 2015, at a cost to taxpayers of $52,000 annually (raised to $60,000 less than four months after she was hired). And now, at $100,000 annually, she spends work time on Facebook and in the auditor’s office. Who is administering our court?

Looks to me like Judge Grendell is paying big money to an unqualified political appointee. No wonder patronage employee Ms. Laurie has trouble following the rules for providing sufficient evidence to the county auditor to support payment of public money to vendors.

Shelley Chernin

Russell Township

What makes a judge honorable?

I am disgusted and dismayed at the behavior of Judge Timothy Grendell and Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court staff regarding the current disputes with the Geauga County Auditor’s Office (front page article of the July 4 newspaper).

I had the privilege to work under the Honorable Judge Chip Henry at the Geauga County Juvenile/Probate Court for 13 years until his untimely death in 2011. As a judge he was bestowed the title of Honorable, as a person he earned the reputation of being honorable. He had high values, integrity, was honest and humble. His priority as a public servant was serving the clients of the court. The cases were complicated, time consuming and heart breaking. He gave much thought and care to the impact of his decisions on the lives of children/families.Parties who appeared in his court (prosecutors, lawyers, advocates, agencies) worked hard to meet the high expectations he modeled.

I continued to work at the court until May 2015. The atmosphere of the juvenile/probate court changed under Judge Grendell and many of the highly qualified and respected staff are no longer employed at this court. Judge Grendell has a history of disputes with county officials (commissioners, prosecutor, public defender, auditor). Much controversy has occurred in the park systems. There is also a lack of respect and collaboration with the agencies who appear in court on behalf of the clients. The role of the juvenile court is to protect children and rehabilitate youth and families. Is it possible to accomplish this amidst so much conflict?

County Auditor Charles Walder and his staff have earned my respect by refusing to compromise the integrity of honest government process and protection of taxpayer money.

Geauga County has the opportunity to restore the honor of our juvenile/probate court when Judge Grendell is up for re-election in November 2020.

Christine Steigerwald


Support for amendment

(This letter was sent to Conference Committee members on June 21 and is being published at the request of the organization.)

The Ohio Judicial Conference supports the proposed clarification amendment to R.C. 319.16, as introduced by Representative Seitz and passed in the House version of House Bill 166. Judge Tim Grendell from Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court worked with State Auditor Keith Faber on additional language that would protect the State Auditor’s authority to audit Ohio courts. We are now seeking through the Conference Committee to restore the amendment as passed in the House, with the addition of language from Auditor Faber.

This proposed amendment maintains constitutional separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches, aligns R.C. 319.16 with the state laws that specifically govern the courts’ funds, retains judicial accountability for the disbursement of court funds, as the courts must still maintain all records of expenditures and remain subject to audit by the State Auditor, while maintaining current law as to non-judicial branch expenditure requirements.

With one simple change, this amendment protects public funds, constitutional separation of powers between government branches and maintains judicial accountability, while ultimately avoiding unnecessary and costly litigation in Geauga County which likely will result if the statute remains as currently written. This amendment allows the Legislature to maintain control over this issue, instead of leaving it to the courts.

The Ohio Judicial Conference, on behalf of Ohio judges, respectfully requests that the proposed amendment language for R.C. 319.16, with the addition of the language suggested by Auditor Faber, be included in the final version of H.B. 166.

Paul E. Pfeifer

Executive Director


Editor’s note: The state auditor’s spokesman sent the following response to this letter.

Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber has consistently held that his first preference has been that no change to current law is necessary. He contends that this is an isolated local issue and should be resolved as such. However, if the General Assembly chose to enact the proposed amendment, he suggested language that would safeguard the Auditor of State’s authorities.

Matt Eiselstein

Director of Communications

Ohio Auditor of State’s Office

PGP Note: While the language proposed by Kieth Faber may safeguard the authority of the State Auditor, the purpose of the bill remains the same—to allow Tim Grendell to circumvent the authority of the County Auditor. This is indeed a local issue and should be dealt with as such. If any change to state law is needed, it would be to tighten up the rules for discretionary spending by the courts and all county offices. It’s amazing how a nickel here and a dime there can eventually total 1.3 million dollars as Geauga County learned so painfully last year.

Categories: Commentary

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