Mahoning Cty. judge accused of misconduct

YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Robert N. Rusu said Monday he responded to a complaint accusing him of acting improperly in a probate case filed against him by the Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel.

Disciplinary counsel for the high court, Scott Drexel, accused Rusu of misconduct in a 2013 case in which he represented the executor of a contested will in the estate of Nora Lewis.

Rusu, in private practice at the time, failed to file a fiduciary account on behalf of his client and the estate became delinquent, the complaint states.

When Rusu was appointed probate judge in 2014 to replace Mark Belinky, the complaint states, the Lewis estate was still delinquent. After taking the bench, Rusu then presided over the Lewis case, making decisions on it through June 2016, the complaint states.

A grievance was filed in April 2016 with the disciplinary counsel over the matter.

Rusu is also accused of failing to recuse himself in more than 200 other matters in which he was attorney of record. The judge’s participation included appointing fiduciaries, approving legal fees for his own and the work of his former law firm, approving magistrate decisions and guardian fees, settlements and settling accounts, addressing cases with delinquencies and waiving guardianship requirements, the complaint states.

Rusu stated Monday in a news release he misinterpreted the rules governing judicial conduct.

“Because the probate matters which came before me on which I had previous been a lawyer did not involve a controversy, I did not believe I had to disqualify myself … I interpreted ‘controversy’ in the common sense of the word — a matter in which there was a dispute, disagreement or argument. In probate cases, there is seldom an adverse party.”

Rusu added he now understands he should have disqualified himself from cases he participated in as a lawyer. Also, he said he plans to work with the Ohio Association of Probate Judges to determine how to address these situations in the future.