$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

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.

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