YOUNGSTOWN Judge Robert Rusu of Mahoning County Probate Court hammered by Ohio Supreme Court for ruling on cases he was involved with when he was an attorney a violation of Code of Judicial Conduct.
Rusu failed to recuse himself after having served as an attorney in cases, filing says
By Justin Wier
A complaint filed with the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct accuses Judge Robert N. Rusu of Mahoning County Probate Court of failing to recuse himself from at least 200 cases in which he previously had served as an attorney.
Judge Rusu issued a statement attributing his actions to a misinterpretation of rules that govern judicial conduct.
“I have come to understand that I should have disqualified myself from all matters in which I had previously been a lawyer,” Judge Rusu wrote.
One specific case the complaint details is the disposition of an estate where the court in 2012, before Judge Rusu’s taking the bench, appointed a woman who Rusu then represented as an executor.
The woman’s brother objected to the appointment, the complaint says.
In early 2014, it was found the woman depleted the funds in the account to the point where she couldn’t pay $3,851 owed to her mother, according to the complaint.
Judge Rusu sent the woman a letter stating, “This is a serious situation that needs your immediate attention,” the complaint says.
Judge Rusu then presided over issues including his former client’s ongoing failure to pay the $3,851 and consideration of her removal as executor, the complaint says.
In 2016, a judge sitting by assignment approved $3,118 in attorney’s fees to Judge Rusu and $2,385 in fees to the woman.
To date, the woman has not faced any sanctions for depleting the estate funds, the complaint says.
Both the woman and her brother filed grievances against Judge Rusu with the Ohio Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which submitted the complaint to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct late Friday.
In 200 other cases, the complaint accuses Judge Rusu of failing to recuse himself on multiple matters, including approving attorney’s fees to himself or his former law firm.
The disciplinary counsel asks that Judge Rusu “be sanctioned accordingly.”
The Board of Professional Conduct has yet to rule on the case.
In a statement, Judge Rusu said he handled more than 1,300 probate cases in more than 20 years of private practice, some of those cases remaining open in his court.
Many of the cases consisted of minor matters handled by court staff involving little interaction with the judge, he said in the statement.
Judge Rusu believed the rules that govern judicial conduct required a visiting judge only when a “controversy” existed, adding there is seldom an adverse party in probate court proceedings, the statement said.
In the case detailed in the complaint, however, the brother of the woman appointed executor objected to the appointment.
Judge Rusu said he would take specific actions to rectify the situation.
He will disqualify himself from all cases in which he previously served as a lawyer, admit his previous interpretation of the rule was mistaken and work with the Ohio Association of Probate Judges to highlight the issue, the statement concluded.
Gov. John Kasich appointed Judge Rusu in 2014 after former Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky, who was convicted of tampering with records after failing to record campaign contributions, resigned.
Voters elected Judge Rusu later in 2014.
“The people of this county elected me judge because of that wide probate experience,” he noted in his statement.