Complaint: Mahoning Probate Judge wrongly presided over 200 case - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Complaint: Mahoning Probate Judge wrongly presided over 200 cases

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Judge Rusu Judge Rusu

A complaint filed with the Ohio Supreme Court alleges that Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Robert Rusu has failed to recuse himself from more than 200 cases over the course of the last several years. 

The complaint filed by the Disciplinary Counsel alleges that Judge Rusu continued to preside over cases in which he had previously been an attorney. 

According to the filing, Judge Rusu's decisions in those cases including appointing fiduciaries, approving legal fees for his own work (or his previous law firm), approving guardian fees, settlements, addressing cases with delinquencies, approving magistrate decisions, and waiving guardianship matters. 

The complaint asks that Judge Rusu be "sanctioned accordingly."

Judge Rusu has issued a statement in response to the complaint. That full statement can be found here: 

In smaller counties like Mahoning, a few law firms often handle most of the work in the local Probate Court. After 20 plus years as an attorney in probate practice, I handled more than 1,300 such cases, some of which are still pending today. The people of this county elected me judge because of that wide probate experience.

Recently, I was told by Supreme Court officials that I must ask for a special appointment of a visiting judge to attend to every action in these cases, even the most minor matters that are typically handed by court staff with little or no interaction from the judge. The rules which govern judicial conduct require a judge who has previously served as a lawyer in a "matter in controversy" disqualify himself from sitting as a judge in the matter. Because the probate matters which came before me on which I had previously been a lawyer did not involve a controversy, I did not believe I had to disqualify myself. I interpreted "controversy" in the common sense of the word – a matter in which there was a dispute, disagreement, or argument. In probate cases there is seldom an adverse party. I have come to understand that I should have disqualified myself from all matters in which I had previously been a lawyer.

I am taking three steps in response to this situation. First, I am disqualifying myself from all cases in which I was previously a lawyer. Second, I am admitting my previous interpretation of the rule and my conduct in the disciplinary process and working toward a swift resolution. Third, I will work with the Ohio Association of Probate Judges to highlight this issue and determine how to address these situations in the future so as to bring clarification for the benefit of other probate judges throughout the state. 

Rusu was appointed to the Probate Court position in 2014 by Governor John Kasich, after the conviction of former Judge Mark Belinky. 

Rusu was then elected that same year. 

Prior to his appointment, Judge Rusu practiced exclusively in the area of Probate Administrations, Guardianships, Estate Planning, Medicaid, and issues regarding aging.

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