Vandalia prosecutor ban is lifted by Judge Heck

Following the story

The Dayton Daily News broke the story last week that Vandalia Municipal Judge Cindy Heck had banned the city’s prosecutor from court.

Vandalia Municipal Judge Cindy Heck rescinded her order barring Vandalia Municipal Prosecutor Claudia Turrell from practicing in the court after the city manager on Thursday said Heck lacked the authority to ban the prosecutor, according to documents obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Heck said Friday that she did not feel like she overstepped her authority.

“It was temporary and, quite frankly, I just did what I thought was the right thing,” Heck said, remaining adamant that she believes Turrell acted inappropriately in repeating a rumor about the judge on April 17.

Heck rescinded her order Thursday afternoon about 20 minutes after receiving the city’s letter, said Rich Hopkins, city spokesman.

Turrell contends she did nothing wrong and is relieved that she will be able to return to work.

“I’ve got to get back in there and try to rebuild my credibility,” Turrell said.

The city had informed Turrell that she would be fired if the order wasn’t lifted because she would be unable to perform her job as the city’s only full-time prosecutor. Turrell, a 10-year city employee whose annual salary is $90,584, has been on paid administrative leave since Heck’s original order was issued on April 18.

Turrell will return to work early next week, but Anderson told her that her continued employment is contingent on her remaining professional in her dealings with Heck.

In a letter to Heck dated April 24, Turrell’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein, cited the Ohio Revised Code, case law and the Rules of Judicial Conduct in contending that Heck acted improperly. Silverstein demanded that Turrell be restored to full privileges, including the ability to handle trials in Heck’s courtroom.

“The City agrees with Mr. Silverstein that you do not have the authority to restrict Prosecutor Claudia Turrell’s practice before your Court,” Anderson wrote in his May 2 letter to Heck. “Accordingly, we request that you immediately remove all restrictions on Ms. Turrell’s practice before the court, both formal and informal, that do not apply to other lawyers practicing before your Court. This includes removing any restrictions you have placed on her handling of her docket.”

In April 2011 Heck prohibited Turrell from doing trials in Heck’s courtroom, although Turrell was allowed to handle pretrial matters before Heck and do trials before the court’s magistrate. At the time, Turrell was reprimanded by Anderson for her behavior during the conversation with Heck when the judge banned her from doing trials. But the ban stayed in place, forcing Turrell’s cases to be turned over to contract prosecutors if they went to trial.

Turrell said Heck never explained her actions except to say she didn’t like Turrell’s facial expressions.

Heck on Friday said she didn’t know what Turrell was talking about. Heck initially denied banning Turrell from doing trials in her court, but later in the conversation Heck conceded she had done so.

“The bottom line is I had to make sure the docket flowed in such a manner that we could handle all the cases that we hear in our court,” Heck said. “I did that to facilitate the court’s docket. It was nothing personal.”

Reacting to Heck’s remark, Turrell said, “For two years the full-time prosecutor can’t try a case and that helps the docket?”

Heck said Turrell will now have full trial privileges.

“I think at this point in time she realizes we’re going to be more professional than what happened in this case,” Heck said. “I’m going to feel very comfortable going forward putting all the personal feelings aside and acting professionally in handling all the courts affairs with her and with other prosecutors as well.”

The Daily News also learned that the idea for the April court order originated with City Manager Anderson.

Heck complained to Anderson after hearing on April 17 that Turrell repeated a rumor about the judge being pulled over for driving under the influence. Heck wanted her fired, according to Turrell, but Anderson refused. Hopkins confirmed that Anderson did initiate the idea of the court order as a way to formalize Heck’s complaint and give the city something in writing to prompt a determination if Turrell should be fired.

The rumor about Heck had circulated in the community for about two weeks before Turrell said she heard it on April 17 and asked someone if they thought it was true. Turrell does not believe she violated a judicial ethics rule prohibiting attorneys from knowingly saying something untrue about a judge.

Heck said the rumor is false and she has never been stopped or cited for driving under the influence. Daily News reporters checked with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Ohio Highway Patrol, Clayton Police and Miami and Montgomery county sheriffs’ offices, which handle dispatch for most of their respective county communities, and found no record of Heck being stopped or cited.

“It really impugns my integrity and the integrity of the court,” said Heck. “It was a very egregious situation. It wasn’t a petty situation.”

Turrell and Silverstein said Heck hurt the prosecutor’s reputation and they are debating future legal action.

“I don’t know how you undo that damage,” Silverstein said on Friday. “I don’t know that rescinding the order undoes the damage to a public employee’s reputation.”

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