Probate judge awaits panel’s decision

By Scott Halasz - [email protected]

XENIA — Saying he didn’t handle the situation well and using words like “inappropriate” and “mistake,” a Greene County Common Please Court judge answered allegations of misconduct during a Zoom hearing Tuesday.

Probate Court Judge Thomas O’Diam was accused of speaking harshly to someone in his courtroom who had previously told Greene County commissioners that the judge should “should recuse himself from cases in which ‘family members’ represent parties.”

A complaint saying O’Diam violated rule 2.8(B) of the code, which states that “A judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control” was filed March 29 with the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court.

A three-member panel of the Board of Professional Conduct heard the case and will make a recommendation to the full board as to whether a violation has occurred and the appropriate sanction. The full board could either dismiss the complaint or send it to the Ohio Supreme Court for sanctions.

The alleged violation occurred during a June 6, 2019 status conference regarding the estate of Carolee Buccalo, which was being handled by Brittany O’Diam, Judge O’Diam’s daughter. Buccalo’s son, Grant David Buccalo, was called to the stand and questioned at length about the comments he made to the commissioners in 2019 regarding family members representing parties in Judge O’Diam’s court.

In an April 19 response filed by attorney Joe Borchelt, O’Diam admitted to most of the allegations while saying other parts of the certified complaint speak for themselves. On Tuesday, Judge O’Diam said he was frustrated because his court’s reputation, along with that of his and his daughter’s were being tarnished. But he added that he handled the situation wrong in using a status conference, how he handled questioning Buccalo, and allowing his daughter to question him in the same manner.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was very upset,” O’Diam said. “I was extremely frustrated to hear somebody who I don’t know, never met …. who starts off his comments that says you have a real problem in probate court. I kept going and my frustration built and built and built. (Brittany) probably followed my lead.”

Judge O’Diam said his frustration and statements made during the status conference — which he said he ordered to clear up any potential issues with waivers of disqualification — “were inappropriate” and his intent wasn’t to humiliate Buccalo.

The waiver is a form parties sign acknowledging the judge’s potential conflict of interest and agreeing to move forward with the case.

“I made a mistake and I’m deeply sorry for it,” Judge O’Diam said. “I take full responsibility for it. It will never happen in the future as long as I’m on the bench.”

A letter of apology written from O’Diam to Buccalo was presented as stipulated evidence during the hearing. Buccalo said he didn’t think it was sincere.

Buccalo said when he was called to the status hearing, he thought it was for an update on the status of his mother’s will and that he wasn’t expecting to be a participant. Buccalo described O’Diam’s demeanor as “full of rage.”

“I would not call it professional,” he said. “He was angry. Dehumanizing. I had never seen anything like it before.”

Buccalo described Brittany O’Diam’s demeanor as “almost identical”

“Same attack mode,” he said.

The panel gave attorneys for both sides 14 days to file a closing brief, which is to include appropriate sanctions.

By Scott Halasz

[email protected]

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.