The Chardon police were put in the middle of the dispute between the Geauga County auditor and Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court last week as accusations of theft and threats spilled over onto Chardon’s Main Street with a robed Judge Timothy Grendell reportedly shouting his objections.
Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus said in the aftermath of the incident that his officers were called to retrieve the auditor’s documents from the court and would begin collecting statements from all those involved. He said he could not speak to the matter until an investigation is complete. Once completed, he said, the matter will be turned over to the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office.
Geauga County Auditor Charles Walder, meanwhile, is calling for criminal charges in the matter, that certain court personnel be banned from his office and that the commissioners provide a sheriff’s deputy to provide security in his office.
Both sides give varying accounts of what happened June 27.
“Another court confrontation occurred at my office on the morning of June 27, 2019 involving Kim Laurie (court administrator) and Seth Miller (court compliance officer),” Mr. Walder wrote in a letter to Geauga County Commissioners, requesting security guards in his office. “Laurie and Miller once again disrupted the operation of my office over a period of almost three hours and refused to leave the premises when repeatedly asked.
“Laurie and Miller repeatedly demanded meetings with various members of my staff, who were otherwise busy. I am told that Miller grabbed a packet of auditor financial documents from the fiscal office counter and finally left our building, refusing to return them. The Chardon police were called and after approximately one hour convinced Miller to surrender our records back to my office.”
Ms. Laurie said she and Mr. Miller had gone to the auditor’s office after getting a call from a court vendor that had not received payment, seeking a status update on the payment. When they arrived, Mr. Miller was given purchase orders as well as corresponding vouchers that needed to be signed.
Because the specific court vendor’s check they had come for was not included in papers submitted to Mr. Miller, Ms. Laurie said she asked for a status update on that payment.
According to Ms. Laurie, an auditor’s employee returned and told them that Mr. Walder stated that they needed to leave because they were causing a “disturbance.” She said Mr. Miller took the entire stack, including the auditor’s documents, so he could finish signing them. She said the auditor’s staff never insisted they remain there.
But, Kate Jacob, chief compliance officer, disputed that account, saying both Ms. Laurie and Mr. Miller were told that they could not take the auditor’s documents with them and said they were “stolen.” Ms. Jacob said 16 voucher packets, many with personal information, were taken. Mr. Miller, who had previously worked in the auditor’s office, should have known, Ms. Jacob added.
Ms. Jacob said the incidents between the two offices have been escalating. In May, the auditor’s office attempted to get documents supporting a “Good Deeds” program which included the use of campaign-like signs. Instead of receiving an electronic record, showing the sign, her office received 540 separate pieces of paper that “like a jigsaw puzzle, might form a magnified version of the requested sign image.”
In a separate incident, Ms. Jacob said, a 5-gallon water jug was submitted with a “crumpled receipt stuck in the bottle neck and stapled 10 times.”
Mr. Walder said he met with Chardon Police Lt. Troy Duncan following the incident to discuss the situation. He said Lt. Duncan then went to the court to advise them not to return to the auditor’s office.
“When he arrived at the court he was advised that Laurie and Miller were once again back down at my office causing a disturbance,” Mr. Walder wrote. “Lt. Duncan escorted them out to the sidewalk and was speaking with them when Judge Grendell, wearing his robe, walked up to him and began yelling at him. My staff could observe the exchange and muffled yelling through our front windows. Lt. Duncan then came into my office, noticeably upset, and advised me that he had been threatened by the judge. He indicated that the judge did not want to listen to him and told him that he would issue an arrest warrant against Lt. Duncan,” according to Mr. Walder.
Ms. Jacob said she witnessed the exchange between Judge Grendell and the officer through her front window, looking onto Main Street. Although she could not make out the exact word exchange, she stated that she could hear the raised voices and the judge “screaming at Lt. Troy Duncan.”
Ms. Laurie said the accusations that the judge threatened Lt. Duncan are “simply not true.
“Both Seth and I were there for that conversation and can attest to the fact that the judge was merely giving the lieutenant a heads up that he would be issuing an order that authorizes the court staff to continue to conduct official court business in whatever means is most efficient for the court,” Ms. Laurie said. “He let the lieutenant know that if anyone attempts to impede the staff’s ability to conduct their official court business, that person would be in violation of a court order.”
Mr. Walder said he can no longer tolerate the uncivil behavior by court officials.
“It is completely unacceptable for any county employee or elected to threaten our law enforcement officers,” he said. “Our lives and our security are in their hands every day. These men and women are sworn to protect the community and face unimaginable obstacles. We should not tolerate anyone, even if they are wearing a judge’s robe, to threaten and intimidate them in the performance of their duty. I am asking the county commissioners to consider sanctioning Judge Grendell in open session for his unacceptable behavior.
“As county auditor, I cannot tolerate other county employees repeatedly coming into my office and disrupting, upsetting or otherwise causing issues with my staff and their work,” Mr. Walder said.
Mr. Walder also called for charges of theft to be brought against Mr. Miller. “His intentional taking of our records, stating his intent to withhold them from us and leaving the premises with them is unacceptable and criminal theft,” Mr. Walder wrote. “We cannot permit a ‘mulligan’ for this irresponsible act. His intentional action must carry consequences and should not serve as an empowerment for continued escalation of the court’s bad behavior.”
Mr. Walder said the needed security will allow his office to conduct the public’s business without these interruptions. “I met with all employees today and every one of them expressed serious concern for their safety and security and fear that the court will continue to escalate their bad behavior. I would like to propose a rather simple and inexpensive plan to modify the fiscal entrance to secure it from visitors simply walking into our office.
“Our employees are our largest and most important asset, without a fiscal staff I cannot pay the county’s bills,” Mr. Walder said.