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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2005

Ohio's chief justice is asked to restrict Sandusky County judge

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Culbert Culbert
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FREMONT - State Rep. Jeff Wagner (R., Sycamore) has inserted himself into the budget dispute between the Sandusky County commissioners and Judge Brad Culbert, writing a letter to Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer calling for limits on judicial power.

In his letter, sent yesterday, Mr. Wagner asked for a review of judicial powers and said he might introduce legislation to authorize judicial recall elections.

In particular, Mr. Wagner, whose district includes Sandusky County, said he was concerned that Judge Culbert would order the commissioners to fund the $86,000 more he has requested for employee raises.

"In these matters, I feel that some restrictions need to be put on judges," he wrote. "I do not believe judges have the power to court-order budgets simply to obtain everything they desire."

Mr. Wagner, a former Seneca County commissioner, noted in his letter that Judge Culbert found Sandusky County commissioners in contempt of court this year during a dispute over office space.

The commissioners appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered the two sides into mediation, where a deal was reached.

"While I would like to be optimistic that the judge will choose not to court-order his budget, his past actions cause me to have doubts," Mr. Wagner wrote. "One option I have is to introduce legislation providing for recall election of judges. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that I may need to exercise this option."

Mr. Wagner could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Commissioner Terry Thatcher said he and his colleagues didn't ask Mr. Wagner to intervene.

"I think he's doing what he needs to do, and I agree with him," Mr. Thatcher said. "We've never discussed specifically this, but I know he's gotten a lot of complaints."

In an interview, Judge Culbert called the representative's letter to Justice Moyer improper.

"If the legislature or any member of the public believes that I've done something unethical or improper, the disciplinary counsel's office ought to be contacted, and not the chief justice," the judge said.

"Going directly to a justice of the Supreme Court is very inappropriate, and the reason for that is because they may be asked to hear a dispute."

The judge said Mr. Wagner warned him last month to drop his budget demands.

"Mr. Wagner visited me on August the 11th and he proceeded to tell me that I needed to change my course of action with the commissioners or he would seek to have me recalled through legislation," Judge Culbert said.

"And I simply told him that his making that statement was evidence that he had absolutely no understanding of the background of the dispute and no understanding of the facts of the dispute."

The commissioners in late August made a "final offer" of nearly $38,000 toward raises for some of the judge's employees.

The judge said he is still considering the offer and other options, including a court order.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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