On Thursday, June 15, 2023, the Marshall Project reported that the controversy surrounding Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze from the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court has escalated due to the emergence of further complaints alleging potential biases, which have been lodged with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Recently filed affidavits of disqualification by a Strongsville businessman allege that Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze approved substantial payments for services rendered by her current deputy campaign treasurer, Cheri Tate, in the businessman’s divorce case. Notably, Tate serves as an administrative manager for court-appointed receiver Mark Dottore, whose close relationship with the judge has come under increased scrutiny.
It was already reported that Judge Leslie Ann Celebrezze shares a longstanding personal connection with Mark Dottore, having known him for most of her life. Over the years, Dottore has frequently acted as a receiver in cases within her courtroom. Notably, he even served as her campaign treasurer during her successful bid for judgeship in 2008, and her campaign headquarters was registered under his business address. Issues were raised about the personal relationship between the judge and Dottore for whom she has approved hundreds of thousands of dollars for work he does in her courtroom. The two have already denied that they are in a romantic relationship.
The businessman, Jason Jardine, has also raised concerns about billing practices in his divorce case and has taken the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court. According to Jardine’s lawyer, the affidavit of disqualification claims that Dottore billed thousands of dollars for days when he asserts the receiver and the judge met at Jardine’s home, various eateries, and his office.
On June 6, an affidavit of disqualification was submitted to the Ohio Supreme Court, revealing that Cheri Tate has been serving as Deputy Campaign Treasurer for Judge Celebrezze since 2009. Additionally, she has been employed by Mark Dottore for over 15 years, and her responsibilities include acting as a liaison to the court while overseeing Dottore’s accounting, taxes, and billing. It’s worth noting that Mark Dottore previously held the position of campaign treasurer during Judge Celebrezze’s successful run for her judgeship in 2008, and her campaign headquarters was listed under Dottore’s business address.
Although Judge Celebrezze’s husband, Charles Zonfa, holds the role of campaign treasurer, it was said that he has not been involved in executing any of the finance reports filed with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, as per the affidavit of disqualification. Since August 25, 2022, Cheri Tate has billed nearly 144 hours at a rate of $125 per hour, totaling almost $18,000, as indicated in the affidavit of disqualification. Her tasks have included issuing checks for Jardine’s businesses and reconciling deposits and accounts, according to the available records.
In a statement by Catherine Turcer, the executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a nonpartisan advocacy group committed to enhancing transparency and accountability in government, Ohioans require impartial courts that are free from undisclosed conflicts, “We need transparency where it’s meaningful and accessible, at the end of the day, we want justice that is fair. Judges need to be thoughtful about how appearances look. That’s a problem.”
Jardine wrote in the affidavit of disqualification, “It’s not a coincidence that Mark E. Dottore, Richard A. Rabb, and Judge Celebrezze were observed dining and drinking together on the same date that Dottore billed for a conference on my case.” This is a reference to the event where they were seen dining together.
According to the affidavit of disqualification, on seven separate occasions when Celebrezze and Dottore had private meetings, the receiver invoiced a total of $3,880 for providing various services.
On March 15, a meeting took place between Celebrezze, Dottore, and Rabb at the Capital Grill in Lyndhurst. For that particular day, Dottore submitted a bill for $680, with the invoice indicating that Dottore had a conference with his brother and Rabb concerning bank documents and other matters.
Source: The Marshall Project