The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Judge Leslie Ann Celebreze broke court rules when she handled a controversial but lucrative divorce case involving an old friend on her agenda.
The ruling bars Celebrez from overseeing the case it faced Many allegations of bias From the attorney for Jason Jardine, the soon-to-be-divorced Strongsville businessman. The allegations raised questions about the friendship between Celebrate and recipient Mark Duttori.
Dottore is a lifelong friend of the judge’s family, who has earned more than $500,000 in fees since 2017 for his work as a court-appointed guard in divorce cases at Celebraz Courtroom.
Ohio Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy’s decision permanently removes Celebrate from Jardine’s divorce case. This has not yet affected Dottore’s designation as a receiver.
Kennedy did not take into account Jardine’s allegations of bias. Instead, the judge found the point moot because Celebrez violated court policy when it unilaterally moved Jardine’s case to its list after another judge recused himself.
Kennedy ruled out Celebrease to avoid the appearance of wrongdoing, the governing state said.
“Justice Celebrez was not randomly assigned to Jardine’s case. The failure to randomly assign the case was a violation of local rules,” Kennedy wrote in her Friday ruling.
“Therefore, to dispel any concerns about the integrity of the underlying case, and to ensure the unquestioned impartiality of a judge who is impartial to the parties and the public, Judge Celebrez has been disqualified.”
Celebrease declined to comment. Jardine’s case, according to the online court schedule, has been reassigned to Judge Diane Palos, who joined the court in 2009.
In a written response to the allegations seeking her impeachment, Celebraz said it has been a practice of reassigning complex and controversial cases to itself. Kennedy rejected this claim.
“It is assumed that every judge of that court is competent to deal with any particular case, even complex and contentious matters,” Kennedy wrote.
“Regardless of Justice Celebrez’s intent, the purpose of randomly redistributing cases after a judge has recused himself is defeated when the administrative judge selects a case to keep for himself.”
Kennedy also ruled that Judge Tonya Jones had violated local rules when she recused herself from Jardine’s case in August 2022 and reassigned the case to Celebreeze.
The court earlier said Jones was set aside because her “former staff attorney had left the court and accepted work with” Jardine’s attorney.
“Judge Jones did not have the authority to order dismissal of the case and refer the matter back to Judge Celebrez,” Kennedy wrote.
Jones also declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Celebrez and Duttori has widened.
Georgana Semari, Silbrizie’s legal assistant since 2009, alleges she was removed from the judge’s office in April and forced to cut $20,000 from his salary after she allowed the Marshall-Cleveland Project to review public records relating to Dutor or his company, court records show.
Semari provided a reporter with copies of Dottore’s invoices in the public file.
After a demotion and pay cut, Simari retained the Chandra Law Firm, which specializes in civil rights cases. In anticipation of a lawsuit, Chandra Law attorneys earlier this month requested copies of court policies, emails, pay records and other documents to better understand why Semary was demoted after The Marshall Project – Cleveland ran a story about Celebrezze.
“This should also include any documents reflecting the reason for Ms. Simari’s job change on or on the day the Marshall Project published an article on Judge Celebrezi,” attorney Subodh Chandra wrote in the court application.
“If Ms. Semari did something wrong that would merit negative action against her, we would expect to receive records documenting this.”
Earlier this summer, the Marshall-Cleveland Project reported that the amount of work Celebrease provided to Dottore raises questions about whether the judge usurped the case allocation policy to push lucrative cases to her friend.
The Marshall-Cleveland Project noted that court rules It states: “When it is necessary to reassign a case already assigned to a judge by reason of recusal, the administrative judge shall reassign the judge, at random, and record the reassignment in the roll of claims.”
In addition, three other Court justices have told the Marshall-Cleveland Project that they have done so I have never seen the necessity of appointing receivers in cases of divorce.
In complex divorce cases, judges can appoint receivers—often charging couples thousands of dollars—to act as neutral parties to control marital assets, including real estate, cash, and businesses. The recipients have sole authority to manage the business and assets at their discretion throughout the litigation period.
Kennedy temporarily removed Celebreze from Jardine’s divorce case on May 18 after Jardine’s attorneys filed an affidavit disqualifying her from the case.
Celebrease has known Mark Duttori most of her life. Duttori has served as a courtroom receiver, along with many other district judges, on numerous occasions. He also served as campaign treasurer when she successfully ran for judgeship in 2008. Her campaign headquarters are listed under his business address.
Government watchdogs have suggested that the close relationship raises questions about Transparency in the Celebrate courtroom and whether to rule impartially on cases involving Duttori and his company.
Kennedy’s ruling marks at least the second time since 2009 that Celebrezze has been removed from a divorce case in which Dottore was named receiver.
Celebrate made headlines that year after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered its removal from a divorce case involving Mark Strauss, a wealthy real estate developer. Dottore was also the receiver in the case and was cited as the reason for Celebrezze’s disqualification. The Plain Dealer reported in May 2009.
This article was published in partnership with Marshall ProjectA nonprofit news organization covering the American criminal justice system.