$3M mystery: Erie County Clerk of Courts' Office sits on other's money

The Erie County clerk of courts has been sitting on millions of dollars for years, but the money is owed to hundreds if not thousands of people.
Sandusky Register Staff
Nov 6, 2011

 

The Erie County clerk of courts has been sitting on millions of dollars for years, but the money is owed to hundreds if not thousands of people.

And the bulk of those people have no idea they're entitled to a piece of this $3 million pie, a Register investigation has found.

Since at least the late 1980s, the money has slowly accumulated in an interest-bearing bank account controlled by former clerk of courts Barb Johnson.

Johnson retired from her post last month, shortly before she died from a lengthy illness.

Employees appointed to run the office in her absence provided the Register with new information detailing this long-running system of negligence.

Read more about the money and what the clerk of courts' office plans to do with it in Sunday's Register.

Comments

SMF1

Holy cow...the can of worms is officially open.

Be_informed

 It's a shame that it has taken this long for someone to see the problem. How many people will never see the money that belonged to them because they have passed on. All because someone didn't do the job they were voted to do. Now she has passed and can not be held accountable for the job she has let slide because she didn't know what she was doing.

man4451

 

--> How many OTHER dark SECRETS does this County Hold?

 

 

Centauri

How many OTHER dark SECRETS does this County Hold?

 

LOTS of secrets in Erie County.

Be_informed

When it is all done where will the unclaimed fund go? Erie county or the DNC?

Darkhorse

Where are the checks and balances and who was supposed to be watching the store?  This is so unbelieveable!  Glad to see they are bringing in an auditor to audit the department.  How did all this get by the outside auditors when they were auditing the County?  Three million dollars in her account and no one threw up any red flags?  Someone needs to be held accountable.  I know this was an elected position and maybe something has to be done to make it an appointed position with the County Commissioner and county auditor overseeing this position.  

bearcat

KEEP VOTEING IN THE DEMS. AND THEY WILL KEEP RIPING YOU OFF

 

Darkhorse

So let's see, we had all Democrats in the offices, when all this was happening, of commissioner, clerk of courts, prosecutor, auditor and on and on. Sure makes me want to elect another Democrat as president, NOT. It takes a Republican to find out how crooked the present system is.

grandmasgirl

WOW! It would be nice if Erie county could claim the money, but that won't happen. By the time the owners are located, paid their share plus interest, there probably won't be much left. If there is extra then it will be eaten up by the cost of having workers track down the owners. Now I see why some of the comments in previous stories on this site said she didn't do her job. I didn't know the woman, but it is clear that she should not have been in office. The problem is that when people run for office most voters don't know them and so they just go "eenie, meenie, minie, moe" and mark a box.

Julie R.

Interest-bearing accounts? If that's true SOMEBODY in Erie County sure did LIE --- but it wasn't Barb Johnson.  When the Erie County Common Pleas and Probate Court were playing their high-school thug games --- sitting on the money from a court-ordered invalid scam sheriff sale for over THREE YEARS ---- two years at the Clerk of Courts until Barb Johnson discovered a Cleveland attorney named Jack Turoff never had a court order to transfer the money over to her department to begin with --- and then ANOTHER year back at the Sheriff's Department --- I was told the money had been in NON-INTEREST BEARING accounts.   

Be_informed

 Blame anyone you want. It was her job to see it was returned. NO ONE else. She was just a slacker...

Dick Tracey

Just curious.

Do they have "Occupy Heaven" or A.C.O.R.N. in heaven?

SamAdams

DickTracey:

First of all, does it matter? I'm not all that sure that bleeding-heart Dems actually GO to heaven. You have to do more than talk the talk to get there, I understand...

Secondly, while I can't speak for heaven and its activist groups, I can sure tell you that it's pretty obvious Erie County is saddled with them! I mean, LOOK at how long Johnson "served," eh?

Cowboy

Was anyone really surprised that she left a mess like this?  I wasn't!  And I expect they will find even more problems with her bookkeeping. 

Darkhorse

Check out Ohio Revised Code 1907.20, Powers and duties of the county court clerk.  Scan down to section D: Any part of the moneys shall be paid by the county treasurer at any time to the person having the right to them, upon proper certification of the clerk.  Why didn't the county treasurer get a little suspicious that no certifications of money owed to people coming before the court were not coming to the county treasuer for payment of a refund?

donutshopguy

 Where is the check and balance system set up to keep and eye on this? Maybe there was never one in Erie County.  Twenty years is a long time to look the other way.  County and state officials  should be ashamed of themselves.

Trust is an important factor when it comes to public officials and public money. 

devilsadvocate

 The people in charge need to bring in the state and audit everything. How do we know that there isn't supposed to be four million in that account?  Sounds like NO ONE was auditing anything. So who knows the correct figure - we only know what we see and we take that as being correct?  Time to clean house of anyone who is part of that office.

D29m2

Sam Adams:

So are you saying only Republican's go to heaven? Since when were you named God and judged all those that faced their judgement day??

Unabasho

Take this case to the Doctor.
It has constipation of facts
and projectile vomiting of opinions.

 

Julie R.

The Clerk of Courts office handled the filings of the Common Pleas Court of Judge Maschari for YEARS and YEARS. They now handle the filings of both Judge Tygh Tone and Judge Roger Binette. The Clerk of Courts can NOT distribute money without a COURT ORDER --- so if the Clerk of Courts office has been sitting on $3M of other's money for YEARS and YEARS, wouldn't common sense alone say the PROBLEM was with the COURTS?

mikel

if the clerk did not bring this to anyones attention then they would not have known it was there to be distributed.

Centauri

Why didn't the county treasurer get a little suspicious that no certifications of money owed to people coming before the court were not coming to the county treasuer for payment of a refund?

@ Darkhorse   There are many secrets in Erie County that only a few people know about.

SamAdams
D29m2:

No, I'm not saying only Republicans go to heaven. I'm saying that those who merely "talk the talk" and can't be bothered to also "walk the walk" are unlikely to do so. Political affiliation has nothing to do with that. The subject at hand was, however, some groups on the uber-left and I stayed with the subject.

If you want me to take the opposite tack, though, that's easy enough. I also don't believe for a second that those on the far right who attempt to legislate everybody ELSE's morality are any more likely to be rewarded for the way they've lived their lives than are the hypocrites on the far left who want to redistribute everybody's wealth but their own.

Julie R.

Mikel's comment reads:  If the clerk didn't bring this to anyone's attention, then they would not have known the money was there to be distributed.

Sorry, but it was NOT the Clerk of Court's job to inform people they were owed money ---- that is something that comes from the COURTS. Once again, the Clerk of Courts could NOT distribute money without a COURT ORDER. It also stands to reason, people in court cases certainly know if they are owed money --- yet NOBODY and not even their attorneys ---- ever complained that the Clerk of Courts (supposedly) was not distributing money on orders from the Court?

Something sure does SMELL here!

Darkhorse

When you conduct an audit, the audit outcome is only as good as the information the government entitiy is supplying to the auditors.  I wonder if the outside auditors even knew about the account.  I would like to know who has jurisdiction and oversight of the clerk.  Is there some statue of limitations on the time frame for paying the money back? Andy, who knew what and when?

Julie R.

Back in 2009 when the courts were STILL sitting on the money from a sheriff sale that took place in May 2007 ~ and before I talked to Barbara Johnson ~ I contacted the State Auditor's office. I contacted them only to ask --- if they do audits in a county, don't they ever question why a county is still sitting on money that doesn't belong to the county two years later?  I don't believe she gave me a direct answer to that question -- if she did, I don't remember -- but I do distinctly remember her saying that they had just done an audit in Erie County in 2008.

So if they did an audit in 2008, how did they ever miss THREE MILLION belonging to others sitting in the Clerk of Court's account? Once again, something sure doesn't SMELL right here!

Erie County Resident

The Clerks office has the names of who is owed all this money.

Any chance of getting the list published?

pow wow

   Why didn't Bill Monahgan do something about this years ago? All the County Commissioners knew about the clerk's wrong doings.

donutshopguy

 pow wow,

Simple explaination.  Democrats don't turn in fellow Democrats

 But then, Republicans don't turn in fellow Republicans.

Isn't this a great system ? You can't trust either.

Free Speaker

To Julie R.  You have been defending Barb Johnson for years.  Don't you get it?  She was a nice person who apparently talked to you alot BUT she was inept at doing her job for many, many years.  When a case is decided by a Judge then a cost bill is prepared by the Clerk.  If costs were less than expected, then the Clerk is to prepare a check to reimbuse the party or attorney (who ever paid the filing fee).  If the costs were more than the filing fee covered you bill the party.  She did neither.  Yes, she passed her Audits because she ACCOUNTED for any money taken in or paid out BUT her procedures in her operations SUCKED, every one of them except for her being nice.  God people, don't you get it? And Julie R., the Clerk of Courts is the accountant for the courts and she cuts checks---not the judges.  The duties of a Clerk of Courts are outlined in the Ohio Revised Code, you need to read them before you shoot off your mouth.

Free Speaker

The people have spoken concerning Barb Johnson.  They re-elected her 5 times. She had opponents for 4 of those elections who tried to tell the voters about her sorry state of affairs in the Clerk of Courts office.  The Sandusky Register wrote numerous articles about her but, she was a Democrat and a "D" in Erie County usually meant a victory.  Voters, please, you have to get more involved in local politics.  You need to read up and talk for a few weeks every four years.  You only have to blame yourselves.

czechurself

@JulieR

The money comes from deposits made by attorneys and clients for proceedings in criminal cases.  Once court fees have been assessed it is the CLERKS JOB to calculate the final cost and either charge for additional costs if necessary or return the remainder.  HOWEVER, not only were final costs NOT TALLIED, but the money was deposited into the STAR account.  It is the responsibility of THE CLERK to notify attorneys or clients of additional funds, but rather, she moved the funds into a bank account she opened with the treasurers office.  

@ Grandmasgirl

Aside from any interest the account may have accumulated there wouldnt be any money left over once the owners are "tracked down". ( Also they do not receive the refund plus interest.)  This money wont be used for paying emloyees to track down the owners.  It is already somebodies money. Geesh...

@ JulieR

Johnsons explanation regarding these funds when asked was that "I keep hearing..." about the millions of dollars "that could potentially be channeled into the general fund"!!!  Thats bold.  Once again, upon the closing of a criminal case it is the CLERKS JOB to calculate the final costs and notify the attorneys or clients of the remainder.   Without the acknowledgment of a remainder HOW does one get a court order to release the funds, Julie?? 

@ Erie County Res

The task of sorting through these financial records will take some time.  It may be a year or two before they can determine exactly who is owed money and how much...hang in there!

mikel

julie - i am sorry that i did not specify but thought you might get the jest of what i was saying being that it was right after your post.  so, let's try again.  you said earlier:

"The Clerk of Courts office handled the filings of the Common Pleas Court of Judge Maschari for YEARS and YEARS. They now handle the filings of both Judge Tygh Tone and Judge Roger Binette. The Clerk of Courts can NOT distribute money without a COURT ORDER --- so if the Clerk of Courts office has been sitting on $3M of other's money for YEARS and YEARS, wouldn't common sense alone say the PROBLEM was with the COURTS?"

and my response to that is that if no one passes the info to someone who has that authority then nothing will get done.  maybe she didn't follow the proper steps to inform those in power.

Julie R.

@ Free Speaker:  I didn't talk to Barb Johnson a lot --- she was never there.  Whenever I tried to contact her I was always told a different story --- she went home early for the day, she was on vacation, etc., etc.  When she didn't return my phone calls, I figured she was just like the rest of the JOKE public officials in Erie County --- I always heard the same thing about Kevin Baxter and Sheriff Lyons, too. That's why I was so surprised in 2009 when she DID contact me, which is when I found out she had been on a medical leave. That's when she told she me she had spent DAYS going through a file trying to find out why money from a sheriff sale that took place in May 2007 was STILL in her account. She also told me that she was trying to contact a Cleveland attorney because she couldn't find any court order that gave him the right to transfer the money over to her office to begin with. Next time I talked to her she told me they never DID have a court order and she had transferred the money back to the sheriff's department. She also told me that she had personally contacted the Probate Court because it was the Probate Court's fault that the money was still sitting.  (but I already knew that --- McGookey was refusing to address the complaints that were filed just like her and Binette illegally refused to address the complaints PRIOR to their scam sheriff sale)  

So am I defending Barb Johnson? I guess I am.  Compared to the rest of the jokes in corrupt Erie County, she seemed like a saint to me. Do I care about this so-called $3 Million that you can bet will all go to ATTORNEYS? No, I don't. Those bottom-feeders get enough for what they do.  

wiredmama222

Whoever takes her place is obviously going to have their hands full. It sounds as if there is a lot of back and forth here and from these posts.  It is obvious that some of you are more than aware that there was an ongoing problem.  Which really makes me wonder. 

I wonder why those who even SUSPECTED that they had money coming back didn't raise a bigger fuss?  If I had money coming back, I sure would have.  Sorry,. but I don't have a lot so every little bit helps ( am talking even ten bucks), so why would anyone let this go?

She obviously didn't do her job.  And it sounds as if her hands were tied somewhat, but could she not have questioned judges or attorneys and the sheriff and ASKED them about funds?  Like, "what do you want done with this thousand or that thousand"? 

 

Informed

Occasionally, I think it's annually, a list of names is published in the register or an insert in the paper, with a list of names of those who have some money waiting for them.  Is that was this money is?  If so, then it sounds like everyone did their job--people just don't read.

czechurself

At least ultimately she lifted herself from the burden and shame she was carrying around regarding the mystery account.   Her last major move before leaving her position as Clerk of Courts was hiring Tom Paul to begin the process of moving the written financial records into a computer database and into this century.   However long overdue,  the process has now begun, and Luvada can begin to move this office forward.  I applaud the new appointees for having good conscience and coming forth with this information.   

myname

Where are you now eightball?

 

 

eightballcuet1 says

@SamAdams

You say Ms Johnson was inept at her job? Then why did she she serve 21 years in office? I'll tell you why, because the citizens of Erie County were happy enough with her work that we kept voting for her. RIP Ms Johnson and thank you for your MANY years of service!!!

 

 

Julie R.

All these things that were coming out about the Clerk of Courts office, even before Barb Johnson won her last election by a landslide, one might have to wonder why Tom Paul as the auditor and the county commissioners never had an audit done. (I noticed that question was never asked in the SR's article) One might have to wonder if they EVER do audits in Erie County. They certainly must not have done any audits in the Treasurer's office when an employee under the watch of Jo Dee Fantozz stole $150K of taxpayer money. What about the sheriff's department --- considering all the money that they must be handling from the ton of sheriff sales that take place every month, does anybody oversee that office? What about the Probate Court --- considering how the probate court judge is also the clerk of her own court, has there ever been an audit done there?

Maybe now that the moderator of the removejohnson blog doesn't have to watch over and grade the elderly 70-year-old Barb Johnson anymore, maybe he or she could volunteer to watch over THOSE public offices. They could call it the Treasurer's Office, the Sheriff's Office and the Probate Court Watch.  

BytheBy

She WAS representative of the people in Sandusky; liars, crooks, lazy dems, union thugs, scumbags!

starryeyes83

Elderly?     I don't believe it was her age,   AS much as it WAS her  total incompetence to carry out HER duties as she was elected to do.

Julie R.

Last time I looked the age of 70 is elderly, not to mention she was battling what obviously was a very painful and terminal illness. Now I personally never would have started a blog about an elderly person calling her lazy and grading her every quarter with an F, but to each his own, I guess. The way I see it, if the former Erie County auditors, the county commissioners and others in joke Erie County knew there was a problem with the Clerk of Courts office, then they should not have waited so long to do something about it.  

Be_informed

 I don't understand your statement   "the way I see it, if the former Erie County auditors, the county commissioner and others in joke Erie County knew there was a problem with the Clerk of Courts office."  My problem is the last word.OFFICE. It was not the office that was the problem it was the CLERK HERSELF.

Free Speaker

@Julie R.  You still don't get it do you?  Barb always accounted for any money she took in and any monies she paid out.  That's why she always passed the yearly County Auditor audit and I believe last year she basically passed the State Auditor's audit.  The problem with her is that SHE and no one else was responsible for the running of her office and she did not have a clue on how to do it right in respect to preparing the cost bill and either refunding deposits or billing additional costs. That's what the SR article was all about.  Her employees only did what was asked of them and did not question her responsibilities or authority. She was a terrible manager in many, many other areas that will be addressed as the new Clerk of Courts finds out what a mess the office is compared to other similar sized counties.

EZOB

  I REALLY DON'T  KNOW  BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          Just suppose she kept on working to keep the accounting a secret.  If this is the situation is there funds missing.  Maybe I'm reading way to deep into this but it sure would not be the first time money came up missing from an office, government or private.

Sam

Free Speaker, great comment, you are correct in you assessment of the clerks office and operation. Don't confuse tinfoil with facts and logic.

Julie R.

@ Be_informed: How many times do I have to say this, anyway? You say that the problems in the Clerk of Courts office was with the CLERK and not the OFFICE. I say my personal experience with that office was the total opposite --- I had no problems at all with the CLERK, instead it was the OFFICE.

Once again, in 2007 the Erie County courts, working in collusion with attorneys, sold property that was part of an estate ~ that didn't even belong to the 2nd deceased owner in its entirety ~ at an INVALID scam sheriff sale. (Data for Parcel 42-01072.000)  AFTER the invalid scam sheriff sale the sneaky Cleveland attorney had the money transferred from the sheriff's department over to the Clerk of Courts. A certain employee at the Clerk of Courts said the attorney did it on a court order signed by Roger Binette. In fact, she said that several times. Yet when Mrs. Johnson returned to work in 2009 she questioned right away why the money was STILL sitting in the Clerk of Court's account. That's when she discovered that the attorney never had a court order to transfer the money to her department to begin with and she immediately transferred the money back to the sheriff's department. (where the probate and common pleas courts continued to play their games and it sat for ANOTHER year)  

Julie R.

@ Be_informed:  I hate to repeat myself over and over but ---- once again, another problem I had with that OFFICE but not the CLERK was a Judgment Entry pertaining to a hearing in the common pleas court to sell property at a sheriff sale through a partition action. The hearing was held without notifying all the parties. The Judgment Entry on it, per the instructions of the common pleas court magistrate, was sent to an incorrect address --- yet the Clerk of Court's office had the correct address on file. Nevertheless, the OFFICE followed the instructions of the magistrate and sent it to the incorrect address and it was returned by the post office. The Judgment Entry was then listed as "missing" in the files. When questioned, a certain employee in that OFFICE came up with two reasons as to why it was missing --- (1) it might have been put into the wrong file by mistake and would turn up sooner or later or (2) somebody off the streets might have come in and taken it.....

.......yet when Mrs. Johnson the CLERK returned to work in 2009 she didn't even hesitate to say it was never "missing" --- it was sent back to the common pleas court of Binette to correct the address and they never sent it back down to the clerk's office to re-send until 26 days later.

So who would YOU believe in that situation  ---- the OFFICE or the CLERK?

Sam

Tinfoil continues her mindless rants, and she remains delusional and disinherited..

Marcus M
ORC 2303.08

The clerk of the court of common pleas shall indorse on each pleading or paper in a cause filed in the clerk’s office the time of filing, enter all orders, decrees, judgments, and proceedings of the courts of which such individual is the clerk, make a complete record when ordered on the journal to do so, and pay over to the proper parties all moneys coming into the clerk’s hands as clerk. The clerk may refuse to accept for filing any pleading or paper submitted for filing by a person who has been found to be a vexatious litigator under section 2323.52 of the Revised Code and who has failed to obtain leave to proceed under that section.

grinenbareit

Hey Folks....this is only the tip of the iceberg, there will be more to come.  Lavada Wilson will figure this out. I have total faith in her, and her choices, as to what needs to be done and how to do it.

Julie R.

If Lavada Wilson is on the up and up, I believe this is only the tip of the iceberg, too ---- only unlike the rest of you sheep I believe there were a lot of SERIOUS problems in the Clerk of Courts office that not even Barb Johnson was aware of. 

This should be very interesting ---- unless they sweep it under the rug, that is.

Julie R.

Files went missing under the watch of Barbara Johnson..........

Hey Retiree, how did a Lorain County attorney ever get away in mid 2002 with filing a fraud quitclaims in the Erie County Recorder's office that falsely stated a fraud POA concealed in the Lorain County Recorder was on file in Erie County? Was that under the watch of the Erie County Auditor? How did those Huron attorneys, after the death of an elderly, incompetent client in late 2002, ever get away with filing one fraud Will with the OAG Medicaid office and then two years later a totally different fraud Will in the Probate Court? Was that under the watch of the Probate Court Judge Beverly McGookey? How did your Cleveland attorney ever get away with transferring money from a scam invalid sheriff sale over to the Clerk of Courts in 2007 without a court order? That sure wasn't under the watch of Barbara Johnson --- she was on a medical leave.  

Darkhorse

Tom Paul was the auditor at the time all this was going on and now he is working in the clerk of courts office trying to figure out all the records.  I am having concerns about this if he was the one overseeing the money.  Does anyone see a conflict of interest here?

Centauri

Tom Paul was the auditor at the time all this was going on and now he is working in the clerk of courts office trying to figure out all the records. I am having concerns about this if he was the one overseeing the money. Does anyone see a conflict of interest here?

Good comment, I agree.

grinenbareit

@ Centauri and Darkhorse.....was the first thing that I was concerned about when the S.R. posted the article about Paul being appointed to the clerk of courts.  If he lost the election, what makes him qualified to clear up the financial mess that exsists now in the clerks office?  Unless, of course, he wasn't aware of it....which I highly doubt.  He even stated in the S.R. article he was taking a pay cut.  Feel sssooo sorry for him <not>.  Once again, if anyone can figure this mess out it will be Lavada Wilson. And if she does have questions or concerns she will seek out the proper avenues to make it right.  That is of course she receives 100% cooperation from those she may seek professional help with this mess. 

Free Speaker

Barb Johnson was on "Leave" for the better part of 12 years.  She didn't do her job.  She was just skating.

Julie R.

I saw the conflict of interest right away with Tom Paul. First, before Paul became the Erie County auditor, he worked in the prosecutor's office.  Now he's been hired to work in the Clerk of Courts to clean up what they say is the "financial mess" left by Barb Johnson.  Now add on the fact that Trevor Heyberger, who ALSO comes from the prosecutor's office, is going to run for the Clerk of Courts, all one has do is put two and two together there.

SR: Why don't you find out what the files are that they claimed went "missing" under the watch of Barb Johnson?   

Julie R.

@ Free Speaker:  If I had a choice between a public official that ~ according to you ~ "skated" and these other flat-out corrupt public officials in Erie County that all wash each other's you-know-what,  I would take the one that "skated" any day.

Julie R.