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Published: Friday, 6/21/2002

Retired judge to take over O'Brien duties in Sandusky

SANDUSKY - A retired judge was appointed yesterday to temporarily replace Municipal Court Judge Erich O'Brien, who has been suspended for allegedly encouraging some employees to pad their time sheets in lieu of raises.

James Stacey will handle the Sandusky Municipal Court judge duties pending the outcome of the falsification case against Judge O'Brien, said Jay Wuebbold, a spokesman for the Ohio Supreme Court. Judge Stacey retired from Sandusky Municipal Court in the 1990s.

“It's unusual - but not unheard of - for a judge to face criminal charges,'' Mr. Wuebbold said.

Two other Municipal Court officials were indicted in connection with the case.

William Kimberlin, 33, of Sandusky, the former chief probation officer, has been charged with theft in office and two counts of falsification. If convicted, he could be sentenced to three years in jail.

Municipal Court Clerk Peggy Rice, 54, of Sandusky has been indicted on two counts of falsification. She could be sentenced to 11/2 years in jail if convicted.

The three cases have been assigned to Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Ann Maschari. No court date has been set.

Telephone messages left for Judge O'Brien, Mr. Kimberlin, and Ms. Rice were not returned yesterday.

Special Prosecutor Terry Hord of Hardin County also didn't return telephone messages.

Mr. Kimberlin, who is the Democratic candidate for an open Erie County commissioner seat in November, resigned at the beginning of the year.

At the time, Mr. Kimberlin said he wanted to focus on his run for office. But his resignation came shortly after an investigation began into problems at the Municipal Court.

Law enforcement authorities claim that Judge O'Brien, Mr. KimBerlin, and Ms. Rice were involved in a scheme to falsify time cards. Instead of raises - which would have to be approved by the county commissioners - they allegedly encouraged probation department employees to falsify their time cards to receive extra money.

Authorities haven't disclosed how much money was allegedly involved.

Judge O'Brien, who has been on the bench six years, was unopposed for re-election in November. He appointed Mr. Kimberlin and Ms. Rice to their jobs.

Meanwhile, many in this tourist community of 29,000 people said they were surprised by the allegations.

“It sounds like an error in judgment. But I don't think it's Enron,'' said Ezell Smith, referring to the scandal that rocked the Houston-based oil company.



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