Six Toledo Municipal Court judges have filed a grievance with the Supreme Court of Ohio against one of their colleagues -- Judge Amy Berling -- making serious accusations about her conduct and mental health, and also making a desperate plea for help.
And on Wednesday, those six judges and Clerk of Court Vallie Bowman-English, issued an order banning all municipal court employees from talking to Judge Berling, except while she is on the bench, and then only about matters regarding cases before her.
Judge Berling called accusations against her absurd but otherwise refused to discuss the complaints against her by her fellow judges. Ms. Berling added that the gag order on court personnel was "invalid and illegal" because the other six judges of the court have no authority over her.
"I am doing my job as I was elected to do," Judge Berling said. "I can say that with conviction."
A letter last month from the other judges to the supreme court's office of disciplinary counsel reported that Judge Berling is "very mentally ill" and asked for the assistance of the High Court.
The letter, which was obtained by The Blade, states "To varying degrees … we have witnessed behavior that causes us to fear for the physical and mental safety not only of ourselves, but, more importantly, of the employees over whom we have responsibility."
The letter is titled a "grievance supplement" and was a follow-up to a Feb. 15 letter from the six judges to the office of disciplinary counsel. None of the municipal court judges contacted by The Blade would comment on the letter, citing judicial rules prohibiting them from discussing it or even confirming its existence.
"Judge Berling's disturbing conduct has been cyclical in nature. There are periods of outright confrontational onslaught, characterized by Judge Berling's threatening of employees, either directly or veiled, that failure to abide by her directives, irrespective of court policy, will result in detriment to employment," the letter states. "These periods are followed by longer periods of relative quiet and absence from court."
They also accuse her of factually inaccurate "gossip-mongering" during after-hours telephone calls to judges.
The letter also mentions The Blade's recent investigation into some judges' excessive use of vacation days and visiting judges to cover time away from the court -- as well as a follow up story chronicling ongoing bickering, mostly between Judge Berling and Judge Robert Christiansen, also of municipal court.
Presiding Judge Michael Goulding declined to comment on the grievance letter.
Judges Christiansen, William Connelly, Jr., Timothy Kuhlman, C. Allen McConnell, and Michelle Wagner also declined to comment to The Blade.
This is not the first time Toledo Municipal Court judges have contacted the supreme court regarding Judge Berling.
Past grievances were dismissed with the suggestion that mediation might help, according to the recent letter.
"In 2007, the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer asked former federal judge Richard McQuade to mediate the matters at our court. He gave up quickly," the letter states. "An intervention was attempted with the assistance of [the Ohio Lawyer Assistance Program]. It failed. In short, we have tried everything, and are left with no resort."
Judge Berling, 61, was shown a copy of the letter by The Blade after personnel at the court on Wednesday refused to send her a copy of that document or the Feb. 28 order banning all communications with her.
In an email to The Blade sent early Thursday, Judge Berling said release of the grievance document was improper.
"This document is in violation of the canons of judicial conduct," she wrote. "One, Judge Goulding, who typed this document, is a member of the ethics committees and should know better. Two, I demand a formal apology from Judges Goulding and Kuhlman for their slander. Judge Wagoner is too new to know better, even if she should. I am amazed that the video tapes of Christiansen bombarding the doors of my courtroom have possibly disappeared. It goes to show that bullies are cowards and I am not going to just fold up even if I am only five feet tall. Shame on their honors."
Judge Christiansen, who is running in the March 6 primary for an open seat on the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals, said he and Judge Berling have had issues for years.
Judge Christiansen denied that he had a confrontation as described by Judge Berling in a Jan. 18 municipal court memo. That record states that on Jan. 3, "at about 8:30-9 p.m., Judge Christiansen, in front of the main crew, shouted obscenities including the 'F-word' in the hallway as he slammed a flatbed cart into the double door and then 5 to 10 minutes later slammed a second flatbed cart into the second set of doors."
Judge Goulding said the Feb. 28 order banning communication with Judge Berling was in response to her behavior at the court.
"It is an order and judges speak through their orders," Judge Goulding told The Blade this week. "I can't predict what Judge Berling will do to countermand that order or any other order. … We have various policies and have for years and when those policies appear to be abused or countermanded … it is up to the judges to enforce them. The problem arises when it is a judge who is the one abusing the rules we are trying to enforce."
In a related matter, Judge Goulding on Monday informed all the judges that a better accounting of their time off would be kept in the court's assignment commission office.
He asked all judges to check the office's calendar book on the last business day of each month.
The seven judges, who are each paid $114,000 annually, are guaranteed at least six weeks of vacation, plus 13 paid city holidays, but the review by The Blade last month found that some judges were gone more often.
Handwritten, unofficial notes on judges' attendance kept in the assignment commissioner office indicated that Judge Christiansen might have been out of the court at least 60 days in 2011 by using a combination of days marked "off" or when a visiting judge covered for him. And that does not include the 13 paid holidays to which judges are entitled.
Judge Francis Gorman, who is now retired, was out 51 days, also not including holidays.
But Judge Christiansen said he reviewed the records himself and found he was actually in the building for 11 days for which he was marked out.
Judge Berling started a vacation on Feb. 21 and returned from Florida Thursday night.
Two days before her return, Judge Goulding spelled out in a memo initialed by the five other judges of the court how the rest of Toledo Municipal Court should deal with Judge Berling:
"All staff is prohibited from having any contact and communication with Judge Amy Berling of any kind at all times. ... All staff is further directed to politely inform Judge Berling, if contacted by her in contravention to this order, as follows: The judges of the court have prohibited me from communicating with you. I am sorry, but I must terminate this call/discussion/etc."
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.