Who will pay the judge's legal fees?

GIRARD — City officials have been involved in ongoing court battles with Girard Municipal Court Judge Michael Bernard for months and now the legal fees for the court wrangling are coming in.

Auditor Sam Zirafi said the city received a $28,000 bill for attorney fees related to representing Judge Bernard and the court in legal battles with the city over finances. The judge was represented by Atty. John B. Juhasz of Youngstown.

Zirafi said the bills have been forwarded to the judge for review.

Judge Bernard ordered the city in November 2005 to increase its appropriation for court operations by $49,000. Council complied but filed suit to get the money back. The issue was argued before a magistrate in the 11th District Court of Appeals last year.

The judge also ordered the city to increase appropriations to the court for 2006 to $905,454, an issue that was included in the appellate court lawsuit. The city originally appropriated about $600,000 for the year.

The magistrate ultimately ordered both sides to come up with an amicable funding agreement. The judge amended his order to $871,388, but the city appropriated only $800,000. The issue was taken to the Ohio Supreme Court, where it remains today.

The city also filed a lawsuit against the judge for use of the court’s facilities. City council had been using the court to hold its meetings until the judge ordered them to no longer use the facilities.

Mayor James Melfi said it is unclear who will pay the court’s legal fees, but he said the ultimate responsibility should fall on the court.

“My recommendation will be that it come out of the court’s 2007 budget. That is my recommendation, but I don’t know if council will accept that,” he said. “He brought this on himself and the city. He has shown total disregard for the city, and it continues.”

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