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Published: Friday, 8/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Grievances on bench to cross into ballot box

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Judge Robert Christiansen Judge Robert Christiansen
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Five months after six Toledo Municipal Court judges filed a grievance with the Supreme Court of Ohio against one of their colleagues -- Judge Amy Berling -- making accusations about her conduct and mental health, she filed a discrimination complaint claiming unwelcome harassment.

Judge Robert Christiansen, who is in the first year of a six-year term on the municipal court bench, said on Thursday that he plans to run against Judge Berling in the November, 2013, election in an attempt to knock her off the bench.

"I want to defeat her," Judge Christiansen said. "I don't think she should be a judge."

Judge Christiansen said he would reveal a list of reasons Judge Berling should not be a judge during a news conference in November, after the general election.

If he is elected to Judge Berling's seat he would restart a six-year term on the municipal bench. If he loses, he would retain his current seat as judge.

Judge Berling, 62, said she has heard of Judge Christiansen's plans to run against her. "He is just trying to bully me," she said. "This just shows that he is a big bully."

While the two judges have lobbed complaints at each other before, all six judges have indicated problems working with Judge Berling.

In her complaint to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, dated July 27, Judge Berling claims discrimination based on her gender and "perceived" disability.

Judge Amy Berling Judge Amy Berling
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She said she was subject to the harassment "most recently on March 2, 2012."

"I have been subjected to unwelcome harassment by Judge Christiansen [who has used abusive language towards me] and other judges, as well as certain courts of clerk employees," she wrote on the complaint. "This harassment was based on my sex."

She said the harassment affected her working conditions with fellow judges.

"For example, Judges Christiansen, Michael Goulding, Timothy Kuhlman, C. Allen McConnell and William Connelly [all males] signed an order prohibiting staff from communicating with me," she wrote. "Also Sergeant Pam Butler informed Deputy Juan Martinez not to pick me up from the airport and not to tell me about this."

Judge Berling in her complaint fails to mention that Judge Michelle Wagner and Clerk of Court Vallie Bowman-English, both females, also signed the memorandum ordering the court's staff not to have contact with her except while she is on the bench, and then only about matters regarding cases before her.

Judge Goulding, the presiding administrative judge, told The Blade Thursday that Judge Berling has not been harassed in any way.

"Sadly, this is only the latest in a long-standing cycle of behavior, which causes the court added concern for the well-being of its employees, judicial colleagues -- past and present -- the practicing bar, Judge Berling herself, and most importantly, the public," he said.

Judge Goulding said the court's attorney would respond to the allegations made to the Civil Rights Commission.

"In the meantime," he said, "it remains the position of the court that its security personnel, provided by the Lucas County sheriff, is not charged with the responsibility of transporting judges, whether to and from airports of otherwise, absent extraordinary security-related circumstances."

In February, when the other six Toledo Municipal Court judges filed the grievance with the Supreme Court of Ohio against Judge Berling, they called her "very mentally ill."

A letter to the Supreme Court's office of disciplinary counsel 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."

Judge Berling on Thursday said she is not mentally ill.

The February letter also stated: "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.

"These periods are followed by longer periods of relative quiet and absence from court."

They also accused her of factually inaccurate "gossip-mongering" during after-hours telephone calls to judges.

The letter also mentioned a Blade 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 Christiansen,

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."

At the time, Judge Berling called accusations against her absurd but otherwise refused to discuss the complaints against her by her fellow judges.

Judge 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.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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