Greene County judge sanctioned by Ohio Supreme Court

O’Diam apologizes for treatment of man in court case, says career is “otherwise unblemished”

Credit: Greene County courts

Credit: Greene County courts

A Greene County Probate Court judge has been sanctioned by the state Supreme Court for berating a man who publicly questioned whether the judge should recuse himself in cases in which his daughter represents parties.

Judge Thomas O’Diam of Xenia received a six-month stayed suspension related to a series of events in mid-2019 in which he and his daughter spoke harshly to a man in his courtroom.

The Supreme Court of Ohio voted 5–2 to suspend O’Diam. The suspension is stayed on the condition that he commit no further misconduct and complete six hours of judicial education focused on judicial demeanor, civility, and professionalism.

“This was an isolated incident, in an otherwise unblemished legal career spanning more than 36 years, that happened over two and a half years ago,” O’Diam said in a statement Thursday. “I handled a status conference poorly. I did not treat Mr. Buccalo with the patience, dignity, and courtesy he deserved, and for that I am truly sorry.

“I acknowledged my mistake and apologized for it,” O’Diam continued. “It never happened before and has never happened since. I am glad this matter is behind me and I look forward to focusing on the important business of our court, as I have done for the past eight and a half years.”

In a per curiam opinion, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that Judge O’Diam violated the judicial code that “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,” and requires that lawyers in their court also conduct themselves the same way.

O’Diam’s daughter, Brittany was handling the estate case of Grant David Buccalo’s mother. Brittany O’Diam has represented clients in her father’s court on 45 occasions over the past seven years without Thomas O’Diam recusing himself. In all of those cases, Brittany O’Diam has filed a waiver of disqualification, a form which all parties sign acknowledging the judge’s potential conflict of interest and agreeing to proceed.

Buccalo then attended a Greene County Commission meeting in 2019 and told commissioners he thought O’Diam “should recuse himself from cases in which ‘family members’ represent parties.”

Buccalo told commissioners: “Justice depends on the appearance as well as the reality of fairness in all things. Otherwise, it erodes public confidence in the legal system.” He went on to tell county commissioners people need to feel that they “got a fair shake” when they leave the courtroom, and that it “wasn’t rigged.” Buccalo did not specifically mention his mother’s estate case or express concern about his own involvement with O’Diam. He also did not inform the commissioners that he had signed a waiver of disqualification.

After learning about those statements to the commissioners, O’Diam set a status conference for Buccalo’s estate case. At this status conference, O’Diam played the recording of Buccalo’s comments at the commission meeting and “interrogated” Buccalo for almost an hour, court documents say. Thomas O’Diam then let Brittany O’Diam question Buccalo without restriction.

Thomas O’Diam told Buccalo he took the comments to county commissioners personally and accused Buccalo of proceeding to “trash” him, according to court documents.

At one point, Buccalo asked for water, which he was denied. His experience at the status conference “had a profound effect on his mental health and his relationship with his family,” court documents state.

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct had recommended that O’Diam be suspended for six months and be immediately suspended from his judicial office without pay.

Brittany O’Diam also is the subject of a misconduct complaint from the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel for the same incident. A hearing in that case is scheduled for May 2.

Justices Sharon Kennedy, Patrick Fischer, Patrick DeWine, Michael Donnelly, and Melody Stewart joined the opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Jennifer Brunner concurred in part with the Court’s opinion but stated they would impose the board’s recommended full suspension without pay.

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