Clermont sheriff asks outside agency to take case involving allegations about judge

The move came shortly after FOX19 NOW reported the chief deputy circulated petitions for the re-election of Clermont County Municipal Court Judge Jesse Kramig.
Published: Jul. 19, 2023 at 3:43 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2023 at 4:00 PM EDT
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BATAVIA, Ohio (WXIX) - Clermont County Sheriff Steve Leahy says he asked the state’s law enforcement agency to take over an investigation related to allegations about a county judge and a staff member.

The move came after FOX19 NOW received records from the Board of Elections showing his chief deputy, Christopher Stratton, is listed as “the circulator” of 30 voter signatures on a petition earlier this year to place Clermont County Municipal Court Judge Jesse Kramig on the fall ballot.

We asked the sheriff and Stratton to comment.

The sheriff initially said he didn’t have a problem with it and they would keep the case. He repeatedly stressed Stratton was not involved in the case and a captain was conducting the investigation.

The sheriff called us back shortly after and said “I changed my mind.”

He said he decided to pass the probe over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

“I don’t think it’s a conflict. It’s not illegal,” the sheriff said. “But I don’t want this to be a distraction.”

He also provided us with the following prepared statement:

“Recently questions have arisen related to Chief Deputy Chris Stratton’s circulation of a re-election petition for Judge Kremig over the last year. To assure the public that a complete and transparent investigation will be completed I have requested that The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations review this matter in its entirety.”

On Thursday, FOX19 NOW learned the captain who was assigned the case, Chris Allen, is one of the voters who signed the judge’s petition for re-election. It happened months ago, on Feb 2,

When we asked the sheriff about it, he confirmed that’s what changed his mind.

He said he was not aware the captain had signed the petition until Clermont County Prosecutor Mark Tekulve told him after we contacted the sheriff about Stratton.

“I would have never had (the captain) on (the case) in the first place if I had known that,” the sheriff told us Thursday.

Sheriff Leahy said that made it clear to him they had to bow out of the investigation.

“The optics of that was not good,” he said.

We asked the sheriff why he did not disclose this to us on Wednesday when he called us back to tell us he changed his mind.

He reminded us he was out of town at an airport “with a bunch of stuff going on” when we first contacted him about Stratton circulating the petition.

He was trying to get the latest flight times and make his plane.

The sheriff still took our call and then called back shortly after to let us know he had changed his mind and would be bringing in an outside agency after all.

He didn’t have a lot of time to talk, he said, and kept his comments brief to make sure we had that main message at least before he had to board his flight.

Scott Croswell, the judge’s attorney, said earlier this week a “third party” made an unfounded allegation against the judge that has prompted the appointment of a special prosecutor.

“Out of an abundance of precaution, Prosecutor Mark Tekulve forwarded the matter to Prosecutor David Fornshell. I am confident that after a full and fair review of the matter, there will be no further action taken.”

He gave us another statement Wednesday when we reached out in light of the sheriff asking BCI to take over the case.

“An unfounded allegation was made. Both the sheriff and prosecutor are doing the right thing by referring it to an outside agency so when the allegation is determined to be unfounded they won’t be criticized for covering up some misdeed by a fellow public official in Clermont County.

“It is unfortunate that matters like this play out in the public before there is a final determination of whether or not there is wrongdoing. The publicity alone gives the unfortunate impression that there must be wrongdoing when, in fact, there is not. I have every confidence that when this matter is resolved, it will be determined that no criminal conduct of any kind has occurred.”

The sheriff confirmed earlier this week the agency was investigating after a relative of the judge’s administrative assistant’s husband filed an “information report” Friday.

He said he was already aware that Stratton, who is active in the county’s Republican party, circulated the petitions for the judge. It was months ago, back in February.

He called it a “non-issue” because the captain who oversees their criminal investigation unit was doing the investigation, not Stratton.

The sheriff’s office planned to turn over all information from the investigation to a special prosecutor who was appointed last week.

Leahy stressed it would be a thorough and transparent process.

The prosecutor, not the sheriff’s office, he said, ultimately would determine the outcome.

The chief deputy circulating a petition for the judge’s reelection “doesn’t mean anything other than what it is,” the sheriff told FOX19 NOW before he decided to turn the case over to BCI.

Judge Kramig “has always been a stellar supporter of law enforcement and did a good job as a judge. These are just some allegations. The chief deputy is not handling the investigation. It’s the captain that’s handling the investigation. I am the sheriff. I make the ultimate call. I don’t see there any issue and I didn’t have any problem with it.”

He also said when we asked that it was too soon to know if it would turn into a criminal matter, or not rise to that level.

“I think,” the sheriff said, “that when the reports are put out and when everything is laid out, it will be very easy to follow. People will be able to see it is what it is. There will be people who agree and people who don’t.

“We are still in the beginning stages of this and looking into it. It’s an investigation. Nobody is not going to do the right thing. If there ever comes a point where this goes in a different direction then I may have to make that request for an outside agency.”

Last week, Clermont County Prosecutor Mark Tekulve requested Warren County Prosecutor Dave Fornshell, or an assistant prosecuting attorney designee, be appointed a special prosecutor to investigate allegations about “J/A.”

His motion was filed after FOX19 NOW requested multiple public records related to the judge, 42, and administrative assistant Alison Kersker, 25.

Clermont County Common Pleas Court Judge Kevin Miles appointed Fornshell special prosecutor at no cost to Clermont County, court records show.

The judge’s order appointing Fornshell or a designee from his office special prosecutor says he will “investigate, prosecute and adjudicate, as necessary, all proceedings that may arise from this appointment, including but not limited to grand jury, pretrial and trial court proceedings, appeals and post-conviction proceedings and any and all other prosecutorial duties which may arise herein relating to the allegations involving J/A.”

Tekulve has said he filed the motion “due to a potential conflict of interest should a criminal investigation be initiated in the referenced matter.”

The prosecutor’s office has civil attorneys who are the county’s legal representation including county judges.

Fornshell declined to comment last week when we asked about his appointment and again this week.

Leahy told us Tuesday and again Wednesday that we could have copies of the information report. He also urged us to reach out to Stratton for it because he is out of the office.

“A statement was obtained late afternoon Friday, July 14th from a relative of the administrative assistant’s husband,” Stratton wrote when we sent him a records request

“The Captain who was assigned to obtain this statement will not be back in the office until Wednesday, July 19th, because of a medical procedure he underwent today. The Captain who obtained the statement has not yet typed the information report. Once the report is generated in our reporting system, I will see that you receive a copy. Again, the assigned Captain returns to work tomorrow.”

We left a message for the person who gave the sheriff’s office a statement and Kersker’s husband.

We also left a message with him for Kersker since she has not responded to requests for comment since week.

Kersker began working in Clermont County Municipal Court in February 2021, county officials said Tuesday.

Kramig has been a judge in Clermont County since 2016.

He also worked in the county prosecutor’s office at one point as an assistant prosecutor of felony cases.

In 2014, he was promoted by then-County Prosecutor Vincent Faris to supervisory assistant in the common pleas felony division.

He handled the office’s most serious cases and supervised other assistant prosecutors and other staff and for making recommendations on presentment of cases to the grand jury, according to his biography on the court’s website.

Kramig began working at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in 2015 as a senior assistant attorney general.

The position required him to travel to different Ohio counties, trying and convicting multiple offenders for white-collar crimes, corrupt activity and theft from the elderly.

In 2016, then-Gov. John Kasich appointed Kramig to complete the final year of Clermont County Municipal Court Judge Anthony Brock’s six-year term.

Kramig was elected the following year to serve a six-year term of his own.

He currently presides over his regular municipal court docket and the county’s OVI court.

Clermont County Board of Elections records show Kramig filed for re-election in November.

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