Court tosses most claims in suit against Butler County judge

Most of the allegations by a former Butler County magistrate, who claims she was fired for being Jewish, have been dismissed from the federal lawsuit she filed against Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens and Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.

Kimberly Edelstein filed a $1 million lawsuit against Stephens, Gmoser and Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson in May, claiming Stephens fired her for wanting to take off eight high holy days and that all three men bad-mouthed her, preventing her from securing another job.

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She is asking the court to declare the county’s vacation policy unlawful, to force the three men to stop defaming her and to award her in excess of $300,000 each for compensatory, punitive and liquidated damages.

Edelstein also claims the county’s policy of allowing Christians to have Christmas Day off without taking a vacation day is discriminatory.

Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz, in her ruling, said the Sixth Circuit has already said the establishment of Christmas as a paid legal holiday does not violate an individual’s rights and is not discriminatory.

“Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to show there are unique circumstances in this case such that application of the paid Christmas holiday policy violated her fundamental rights or discriminated against her based on her religion,” Litkovitz wrote.

The magistrate judge also found Stephens, Gmoser and Ferguson did not cross the legal line in making alleged disparaging statements about Edelstein.

“While statements plaintiff attributes to Stephens may have hampered her job search, her allegations do not suggest Stephens’ actions and statements curtailed plaintiff’s freedom to work in any sense,” she wrote. “Further, plaintiff’s allegation against defendant Stephens do not satisfy the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard.”

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The magistrate judge found the same true for the prosecutors. Edelstein had alleged Gmoser gave her a negative review when he spoke with Wood County Paul Dotson prosecutor so she was unable to keep her job there.

“Defendant Gmoser contacted plaintiff’s new employer, which resulted in plaintiff being terminated from a second job,” Edelstein wrote in a court document. “As a result of the abuse of power and disregard of the law by these public officials, plaintiff has been effectively denied the ability to become employed in her chosen profession, rendering her license useless as a means to support her family.”

Gmoser told this news outlet he did speak to Dotson and relayed that his staff was having problems getting timely responses from the court, but he said he couched his comments saying he didn’t know if Edelstein or now-retired Judge Patricia Oney was to blame.

The magistrate judge did not dismiss all of the claims — the county’s lawyer only asked for 16 of the 21 claims to be dismissed — but Gmoser said this is the “beginning of the end” of a case that never should have been filed.

“It should have been thrown out, I agree with that decision from the jump,” Gmoser said. “After all it was truly a case, it stung of that type of bigotry that we abhor, which is to ascribe some type of anti-Semitic statement to a simple statement that I made to a fellow prosecutor… It really bothered me to have type of criticism, it was uncalled for, unjust and unfair.”

Edelstein said she knows this is an uphill battle, suing a sitting judge and two prosecutors, but she feels obligated to continue the fight and will file an objection to the magistrate judge’s recommendation.

“This case is as much about discrimination as it is about abuse of power by public officials,” she said. “I’m not going to stop because I took an oath a long time ago as an attorney to uphold the law and to fight for justice. I just find myself in a weird position to fight public officials and the justice is for myself.”

Ferguson and Stephens could not be reached for comment.

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