A former law clerk for Toledo Municipal Judge Amy Berling has sued the city, the court, and six of the judges alleging "wrongful termination and intentional humiliation."
Troy Hawkins filed the lawsuit Friday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against Judges Timothy Kuhlman, Francis X. Gorman, C. Allen McConnell, Michael Goulding, Robert Christiansen, and William Connelly.
The complaint alleges that Mr. Hawkins was wrongfully terminated in August, 2010, and that his professional and personal reputation was damaged when he was escorted from the courthouse.
The complaint comes in the midst of infighting among the municipal court judges, which includes a grievance filed with the Supreme Court of Ohio by six judges against Judge Berling.
In turn, Judge Berling filed a discrimination complaint in July with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission alleging harassment.
According to the 16-page lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Hawkins by a Hilliard, Ohio, law firm, the defendants "usurped Judge Berling's authority to make an employment decision affecting her personal and confidential at-will employee." It further stated that Judge Berling "did not terminate" Mr. Hawkins and that she did not consent to his being terminated.
At issue was Mr. Hawkins practicing law while employed as a courtroom bailiff with Judge Berling. The lawsuit stated that in 2009, Judge Berling gave Mr. Hawkins permission to begin practicing bankruptcy law while maintaining his job.
Soon after, in February, 2009, the judges unanimously voted to temporarily prohibit the practice of law by courtroom bailiffs, the complaint said. But after "independent research" and advice from the Ohio Supreme Court, Judge Berling concluded that "she alone had the authority to permit or prohibit [Mr. Hawkins] from practicing law while employed as her courtroom bailiff."
"As a result of her conclusions, Judge Berling gave [Mr. Hawkins] written permission to continue practicing law" in April, 2009, according to the lawsuit.
The judges voted to prohibit the practice of law by courtroom bailiffs in August, 2009, however, Judge Berling concluded based on her research that she had the ability to make all personnel decisions concerning Mr. Hawkins' employment, the complaint stated.
In the ensuing year, Judge Berling filed a formal complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court Grievance Committee saying she and her staff were subject to continual harassment and asked that workplace mediation be scheduled, the lawsuit stated.
In August, 2010, Mr. Hawkins was immediately terminated for "gross insubordination" and was escorted from the courthouse, the lawsuit said.
Judge Berling declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it would be improper.
The judges listed as defendants in the lawsuit referred all questions to attorney Fritz Byers.
"The claims Mr. Hawkins advances are baseless," Mr. Byers said. "His assertion of them appears to be part of a campaign designed to tangle the court and its responsible judges in endless personal squabbles that interfere with the important work of the court and, sadly, detract from public confidence in the judiciary."
Mr. Byers continued that his clients believed that the issue had been resolved but now intend to fight the allegations.
"When Mr. Hawkins first asserted his claims, the judges referred them to the Ohio Supreme Court's insurance program, which is supposedly designed to protect judges from such actions. Strangely, the program reserves the right to settle claims without the consent, and indeed without the knowledge, of the judges," he said.
"Last week, a program administrator informed the judges that the program had resolved this matter, although he declined to provide any information about the resolution. So the judges are surprised to have been sued. But now that the matter is back in their hands, they will vigorously defend these meritless claims."
Mr. Hawkins is asking for a jury trial and in excess of $50,000 in judgment, punitive damages, and other fees and costs. The case was assigned to Judge Linda Jennings.
Mr. Hawkins' attorney, Nathan Painter, could not be reached for comment.
Contact Erica Blake at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.