News

Probate/Juvenile Court Employees Charged with Criminal Mischief

Friday, June 5, 2020
JUNE 3, 2020 BY JOHN KARLOVEC 

A court-appointed special prosecutor has filed criminal charges against two Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court employees involved in a June 27, 2019, incident at the Geauga County Auditor’s Office in Chardon.

A court-appointed special prosecutor has filed criminal charges against two Geauga County Probate/Juvenile Court employees involved in a June 27, 2019, incident at the Geauga County Auditor’s Office in Chardon.

Court Administrator Kimberly D. Laurie and Fiscal Compliance Officer Seth Miller were each charged in Chardon Municipal Court with one count of third-degree misdemeanor criminal mischief. Their arraignments are scheduled for June 12.

Cleveland attorney David L. Grant, who was appointed as special counsel to review the 2019 incident, filed the charges on May 22. In the one-page complaint against each defendant, Grant alleged both Laurie and Miller “knowingly removed vouchers and related documents from the Geauga County Auditor’s Office without privilege or permission to do so.”

Jay Crooks, a Wickliffe attorney who represents Laurie and Miller, said their actions on June 27 were not criminal.

“My clients are looking forward to responding to the allegations against them and are confident in their position,” he said. “As the litigation is pending, Mr. Miller and Ms. Laurie will be offering no further statements on the matter.”

Walder said he first learned of the charges against Laurie and Miller, who used to work in the auditor’s office, on May 27.

“As a witness to the events, I do not believe that it would be proper for me to comment at this time,” he said, referring any future inquires to the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office, which is his statutory legal counsel.

Grant had not returned a telephone call or replied to an email seeking comment as of Tuesday’s deadline.

The June 2019 incident began when Laurie and Miller entered the county auditor’s fiscal office around 8:50 a.m. to sign for checks intended for court vendors.

The two departments have sustained a long-simmering dispute over the court’s attempts to issue payments to vendors without providing the auditor’s office sufficient evidence to support those payments, which Ohio law requires. Probate/Juvenile Court Tim Grendell has attempted — unsuccessfully thus far — to have the law changed.

Around 9:30 a.m., Kate Jacob, chief officer of compliance and administration for the auditor’s office, called law enforcement to report Laurie and Miller had walked into the fiscal office, were looking at some records and “snatched” them from the countertop and left.

About 20 minutes later, Miller and Chardon police officer William Bernakis returned to the auditor’s office with the documents.

A little after 11 a.m., Laurie and Miller returned a third time to the auditor’s office. Jacob called Chardon police to request an officer return to the auditor’s office, stating two individuals who had been disruptive multiple times in the office that morning, and who had been previously advised by an officer to leave the office, had returned.

Police Lt. Troy Duncan returned to the office and Laurie and Miller were again escorted outside, where Duncan explained they could face criminal trespass charges, even in a public building. Grendell then suddenly appeared on Chardon Square sporting his black judicial robe.

“I could tell in his demeanor that he was upset and very determined,” Duncan said in his written statement regarding the incident. “He immediately started yelling and stated that he was going to issue an order stating that his court employees were allowed to go into public offices and interact with public officials to conduct court business and if anyone, including law enforcement, attempts to interfere that he would hold them contempt.”

Duncan said Laurie told Grendell that Duncan said she and Miller were not allowed in the auditor’s office.

“Judge Grendell turned as if to leave and stated that it included me and that he was going to issue a warrant,” Duncan wrote, adding Grendell told him he didn’t care what the lieutenant had to say.

When he returned to the auditor’s office, Duncan told them Grendell had threatened to hold him in contempt and issue a warrant.

In her statement to police, Laurie said Grendell did not threaten to issue a warrant for Duncan’s arrest. Instead, she said the judge told Duncan that once his court order was in place, anyone who violated it “would be subject to show cause and face consequences.”

On July 1, Grendell issued the promised administrative order.

Ten days later, on July 10, Grendell wrote Duncan an apology letter, suggesting Duncan mistook what was said as a threat.

“It was neither my intent nor purpose to threaten you,” Grendell told Duncan, but rather to explain the procedures he was going to take to assure his staff could conduct official business.

“I also do not understand why Chardon PD would allow itself to become involved in an internal county issue between county offices in the first place,” he added. “In any event, please accept my apology if I offended you during our conversation.”

A video captured from a camera mounted on the Geauga County Courthouse shows Duncan, Miller and Laurie having a calm conversation outside the auditor’s Main Street office until Grendell arrives.

“When Judge Grendell walks up I greet him and shake his hand,” Duncan said of the video. “Shortly thereafter, you can see me drop my head as Judge Grendell starts to yell. Judge Grendell continues until he turns sideways and becomes more aggressive. He then starts pointing at me as he yells. He turns to walk away as I follow trying to reason with him.”

While Grendell seemed to downplay the confrontation, a waitress working at a nearby restaurant told police she was sweeping the patio when she heard a “man in a judge robe yelling at a police officer a few doors down.”

 

“Couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but the man in the judge robe was loud and pointing at the officer,” she said in her written statement.

The next day, Laurie issued what she characterized as a “statement containing a true and accurate representation” of the events of June 27.

“Mr. Miller, Ms. Laurie and the lieutenant were discussing the practical implications of prohibiting court fiscal staff from visiting the auditor’s office when Judge Grendell joined the conversation,” Laurie said in her written statement.

“Judge Grendell stated that he is going to write an order directing court staff to visit public offices and interact with public officials and their staff as necessary to conduct the court’s official business, and that if anyone, including law enforcement, attempts to impede upon the court’s ability to conduct its official business, they would face potential contempt charges and penalty,” she said. “Judge Grendell never threatened to arrest the officer.”

In her statement, Laurie also said an employee of the auditor’s office told Miller he could take the documents and return them after they were signed.

“Needless to say, Kim Laurie’s accounting of the events, people involved and facts is pure fiction,” Walder said of her statement, explaining his staff would never allow public records under their control to be removed from the office.

“Seth Miller, a former auditor employee, knows that,” he added.

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