Saturday, March 06, 2010

Brown County Update: "I Don't Give a F***" Edition

A story appeared in last week's Brown County Press that greatly disturbed me. I haven't done too much digging due to work concerns and a very tight schedule, but there are some troubling things that may be taken from this story:
Brown County Clerk of Courts Tina Meranda was threatened with jail on Feb. 19.

She was told by Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler that he would have her arrested on contempt of court charges if she did not provide him with keys to the public entrance of her office.

Meranda said she had the locks changed after she came to work on Feb. 17 and discovered that employees from the judges office had unlocked her office that morning and did some work normally reserved for her employees.

She said that incident, along with the departure of a couple of her employees, caused her to change the locks to preserve the security of public records.

Meranda said that action set the following into place...

OK, stop right there. Question: what were employees of the judge doing in the office, and why were they doing work that was reserved for Clerk Meranda's staff? There are several possible answers...Maybe Meranda's staff isn't getting things done efficiently enough. Maybe they were trying to help. On the other hand, maybe they were fishing. I don't know. The article doesn't ask this question. But back to the story:
Court Administrator Joni Dotson arrived at her office shortly before 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb 19, and told employee Alesha Crawford that the judge wanted the keys to the office by the end of the day.

Crawford then called Meranda, who told her that she was on her way to the office.

Meranda said in the meantime, she called Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little to ask her advice.

She said Little told her to tell the Judge to give her a court order stating his jurisdiction over her office and justifying his possession of the keys.

Meranda said when she arrived at her office, there was "a deputy circling the courthouse" and Judge Gusweiler was waiting for her.

In the meantime, Little also arrived at the Clerk of Courts Office.

Meranda said Gusweiler presented her a court order that said "It is hereby ordered that Tina Meranda, Brown County Clerk of Courts shall provide a key to all public entrances of the Brown County Clerk of Courts Office to the Court by the end of the business day on the date of this filing."

The filing date was that day, Feb. 19.

Meranda said Gusweiler then told the two women "She will give me the keys or she'll be arrested."

Little responded "Judge I represent both of you, but I advise you not to arrest her without due process."

Meranda said the judge responded "I don't give a f*** about your advice."

At that point, Meranda turned over the keys.

Meranda said later that "I gave him the keys so I wouldn't go to jail. Threatening me with jail over taking the keys to my office is just not right."

Meranda is planning to appeal the court order to the 12th District Court of Appeals.

Little said she is standing by to secure outside council for either party in the dispute.

OK, a few issues here. One, the paper is reporting this stuff as totally factual. Did they ask Prosecutor Little if Judge Gusweiler said the rather offensive quote? Did prosecutor Little ask what the issue was between the two?

It should be noted this is Tina Meranda's description of events. Maybe others remember it differently. I don't know.

However, if this is true, this is no way for a team of leaders in the County to act. First, they are supposedly all on the same team of seeing justice done. These types of turf wars are what aggravate the people anyway and get in the way of doing the jobs people want them to do. Second, they are both Republicans, and both were endorsed by the GOP in their elections previously. Third, do we really need the language here? Judge Gusweiler declined to comment for the article, but he is really in a no win. If he says the story is true, it looks bad. If he says it is false, there will be some to doubt him.

I know Judge Gusweiler and this seems out of character for him, at least my observations of interacting with him. However, Clerk Meranda has no reason to lie, as far as I can tell, and she has for the most part been praised doing her work as Clerk of Courts, except for an audit done by Mary Taylor a few years ago, but she has appeared to rectify that. Prosecutor Little, I don't know very well, and since being endorsed, supported, and elected by the Brown County GOP she has not showed to a single Central Committee meeting.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops.....Stay tuned....