Board recommends suspension for Greene County judge accused of professional misconduct

Greene County Probate Judge Thomas O'Diam

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Greene County Probate Judge Thomas O'Diam

Ohio Supreme Court to determine whether probate judge is sanctioned.

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct of the Ohio Supreme Court on Friday issued a report that recommended a Greene County judge be suspended from the practice of law for six months following a complaint about harsh treatment of a man who came before his court.

The board recommended the sanction against Greene County Probate Judge Thomas O’Diam following a June 29 disciplinary hearing before a three-judge panel in connection to a 2019 grievance.

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The panel recommended to the board that O’Diam be suspended for six months, but with the suspension stayed on condition he commit no further misconduct and complete six hours of continuing judicial education focused on judicial demeanor, civility and professionalism.

However, the board stated that O’Diam needed to serve the six-month suspension, without pay, because judges are held to higher standards of integrity and ethical conduct than attorneys or other members of the public.

“The board believes an actual suspension is necessary to protect the public and serve as a deterrent for other judicial officers who may feel compelled to abuse their position of trust and authority to demean and belittle members of the public for personal gratification,” according to the report signed by Richard Dove, director of the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct.

O’Diam declined to comment, saying that under the code of judicial conduct, he is “prohibited from commenting on pending matters.”

The next step is for the board’s report to go before the Ohio Supreme Court. A party has 20 days to file objections to the board’s recommendations, and oral arguments will be scheduled if any are filed. The Supreme Court will issue a written opinion and order of any sanction imposed and conditions for probation or reinstatement, if applicable.

A complaint filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on March 29 alleged that O’Diam violated the judicial code that states “a judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers … and others with whom the judge deals with in an official capacity.” The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct found that O’Diam had violated the code, according to its report.

Grant David Buccalo, whose deceased mother’s estate was being handled by O’Diam & Estess Law Group Inc. — the law firm where O’Diam’s daughter Brittany O’Diam practices — made comments to Greene County commissioners in May 2019 that he thought O’Diam “should recuse himself from cases in which ‘family members’ represent parties.”

Brittany O’Diam has represented clients in her father’s court in dozens and dozens of cases without Thomas O’Diam recusing himself. In all of those cases, she has filed a waiver of disqualification, a form all parties sign acknowledging the judge’s potential conflict of interest and agreement to proceed. Buccalo also had signed a waiver in the case.

Brittany O’Diam did not return a request for comment.

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Buccalo told commissioners at its May 23, 2019, meeting: “Justice depends on the appearance as well as the reality of fairness in all things. Otherwise, it erodes public confidence in the legal system.” Buccalo did not specifically mention his mother’s estate case or express concern about his involvement with O’Diam.

After learning about those statements to commissioners, O’Diam set a June 6, 2019, status conference for Buccalo’s estate case and issued a judgment order compelling the appearance of Buccalo and others without notifying them of the purpose nor that Buccalo would have to testify. O’Diam also contacted his daughter and prepared exhibits and questions for Buccalo, the report stated.

“He called Buccalo to testify under oath, without informing him of his right to have his counsel present, and interrogated him for over an hour in a disparaging manner.” He then allowed his daughter to do the same without restriction, according to the report. Combined, O’Diam and his daughter questioned Buccalo for about 75 minutes.

During the status conference, O’Diam played the recording of Buccalo’s comments to commissioners, and said, “Oh, I see this as very personal” and also accused Buccalo of “slander” and taking a “free shot” against him. After about an hour on the stand Buccalo, who is diabetic, asked for water but O’Diam replied, “I don’t have any water” and did not offer him a break or attempt to get water for him, the report stated.

“It was not a good time,” Buccalo previously told the Dayton Daily News.

At the end of the case status conference, the judge said he would formally recuse himself so the case would be handled by a visiting judge.

A week after the status conference, O’Diam — accompanied by his daughter — attended a June 13, 2019, Greene County commission meeting and discussed Buccalo’s case “to further publicly denigrate Buccalo” when he told them Buccalo’s comments were false and that he was publicly disparaged and slandered, the report stated.

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The report found that O’Diam acted with a dishonest or selfish motive because during the status hearing he did not address whether there was a problem with the waiver or how any problems could be remedied. “Many of (O’Diam’s) statements during both the status conference and the disciplinary hearing were focused on the effect of Buccalo’s statement on (his) reputation the reputation of his daughter, and the reputation of his court, as well as how those statements personally offended him.”

The report also found that Buccalo suffered harm by O’Diam’s actions. He told the panel the experience at the status conference “had a profound effect on his mental health and also on his relationship with his family.”

Buccalo filed a grievance June 4, 2019, in Greene County regarding his concerns with the judge’s conflict waiver, which later was dismissed without investigation. However, he did not make the professional conduct complaint against O’Diam filed Sept. 30, 2019, as an anonymous grievance against the judge.

O’Diam sent a letter to Buccalo on May 4 ahead of the hearing to apologize for his conduct during the status conference. The judge said he did not reach out sooner because he thought Buccalo filed the complaint but later learned he did not, the report stated.

O’Diam has been the county probate judge since 2013. Before that, O’Diam was a probate attorney for 28 years.

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