Counsels agree on punishment for probate judge

By Scott Halasz - [email protected]

XENIA — A public reprimand has been recommended for Greene County Probate Judge Thomas O’Diam, who answered allegations of misconduct in front of a three-member panel of the state’s Board of Professional Conduct in June.

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.

Disciplinary Counsel Joseph M. Caligiuri and Assistant Counsels Lia J. Meehan and Audrey E. Varwig, along with O’Diam’s attorney, Joseph W. Borchelt, all agreed that the public reprimand is appropriate. The panel 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, according to the Supreme Court website.

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 Borchelt, O’Diam admitted to most of the allegations while saying other parts of the certified complaint speak for themselves.

After questioning all parties involved at the June hearing, the disciplinary counsel in its post-hearing brief said O’Diam’s conduct was “inexcusable,” but it appeared to be an isolated incident.

“Additionally, (O’Diam) appears to now recognize that his conduct was inappropriate and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. Taking all of these factors into account, respondent’s misconduct was less egregious than similar cases; therefore, a public reprimand is warranted,” the counsel wrote. “Aside from disagreeing that he had a selfish reason for his misconduct, respondent acknowledged his wrongdoing during the disciplinary hearing. As a result, a public reprimand is supported under case law precedent and is the appropriate sanction in this matter.”

Borchelt, in his post-hearing brief, agreed.

“Respondent (O’Diam) asserts that this case falls squarely within the category of conduct for which a public reprimand is typical,” Borchelt wrote. “This was an isolated incident that had never occurred before June 6, 2019, and has not occurred since. Respondent’s conduct, while not appropriate, pales in comparison to the more egregious conduct for which other judges have been publicly reprimanded. Nevertheless, Respondent accepts full responsibility for his conduct and acknowledges that a public reprimand is appropriate under the circumstances.”

During the June hearing, 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 during the hearing. “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.”

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,” O’Diam said at the hearing. “I take full responsibility for it. It will never happen in the future as long as I’m on the bench.”

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.”

By Scott Halasz

[email protected]

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.