Mediation under the Ohio Supreme Court was unsuccessful between Judge Timothy Grendell and Auditor Charles Walder, and legal costs could climb up to $30,000 to compel the payment of approximately $26,000 in outstanding unpaid vouchers.
Geauga County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Grendell filed a writ of mandamus against the county auditor in September last year to compel the payment of court-related expenditures after Geauga Commissioners OK’d outside legal representation in an amount not to exceed $10,000. The outstanding expenditures, totaling about $26,000, according to the official complaint, date back as far as 2018.
County Administrator Gerry Morgan told the county commissioners during their Jan. 28 meeting that Stephen W. Funk of Roetzel & Andress, LPA, who is representing Judge Grendell, requested the commissioners raise their not-to-exceed amount with the case anticipated to head into a hearing.
The commissioners had already approved a $10,000 increase in the not-to-exceed amount during their Sept. 10 meeting, bringing the [current] not-to-exceed amount to $20,000.
“From Stephen Funk, he is requesting an increase to the allowable amount. We started at $10,000, we’ve already increased it by $10,000. He’s requesting it to be increased another $10,000,” Mr. Morgan said.
Judge Grendell opted to pursue legal action against Mr. Walder for the outstanding vouchers after his refusal to release funds for approximately $4,000 worth of robocalls and local newspaper ads that stated “no tax dollars were used” to support the expenditures. Judge Grendell said the court utilized a discretionary fund supported with court fees to pay for the ads.
Mr. Walder, however, said the statement was misleading, claiming that the court fees, while not “tax dollars,” are “taxpayers’ dollars.”
In December, the court referred the case to mediation under its rules of practice, according to the court docket, but returned it to the court in January after the mediation failed. As of Tuesday, no hearing or briefing has been scheduled.
As of the Jan. 28 meeting, Mr. Morgan told the commissioners Mr. Funk had billed the county up to $13,715 so far but expected the county to hit $20,000 with the case returning to the high court.
“And we’re fighting over how much money?” Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri asked, later commenting that the county could spend $30,000 in tax dollars over the $26,000 dispute.
While the vouchers in question total $26,000, Court Administrator Kimberly Laurie told the commission over the summer that the total unpaid expenditures were “piling up” and some vendors were threatening litigation.
Ms. Laurie responded this week to the Times’ request for comment via email and said, “Mediation is confidential so neither party is allowed to provide any comments.”
Mr. Walder also responded via emails and stated there is nothing new he can report at this time aside from the fact that mediation was unsuccessful and the matter will be “briefed and raised before the Ohio Supreme Court.”
“We’ll actually be spending more,” Mr. Morgan said. “Right now, the auditor’s office, [Mr. Walder’s] coverage of the attorney is through the insurance company, but that’s going to get up to our coverage of $25,000 in the not-too-distant future also.”
Mr. Walder is represented by the County Risk-Sharing Association, or CORSA, with Frank H. Scialdone of Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., LPA, a Cleveland-based law firm.
“I’m not going to make a motion on that,” Mr. Spidalieri said. “We need to pull the Band-Aid off on this one.
“I’m not voting on it, nor am I making a motion on it,” he added. “Somebody’s got to step in and put their big pants on and figure out what they’re doing here.”
Commissioner James Dvorak and Mr. Spidalieri asked Mr. Morgan to obtain more information on whether they are legally required to continue paying for the internal dispute.
“[It’s a] drop in the bucket, look at the big picture,” Commissioner Tim Lennon said. “It’s been going on for years. We need to figure out a way to work together.”