Trial of former Butler Co. magistrate who claims she was fired for being Jewish begins today

It has been nearly six years since former Butler County Magistrate Kim Edelstein sued Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens in federal court over allegedly firing her for being Jewish. The trial finally starts today.

Edelstein filed a $1 million lawsuit against Stephens, Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson in 2017, claiming Stephens fired her for wanting to take off eight Jewish high holy days and saying the men talked negatively about her, destroying her career.

Gmoser and Ferguson have been dismissed from the case, so the jury will only decide whether Stephens wronged her, during what is expected to be a 10-day trial. They will be allowed to consider punitive damages.

Edelstein worked for Stephens after Judge Patricia Oney retired in early 2016. Edelstein told Stephens on July 28, 2016, she would need to take eight days off in October to observe Jewish high holy days.

She said Stephens reacted to her request by yelling, “Holy cow, eight days,” and he appeared to be angry, according to court filings. She was fired four days later.

Stephens says he “terminated Edelstein after months of internal strife between Edelstein and other members of his personal staff, which created a negative and disruptive work environment,” according to court records. In addition, his attorney Linda Woeber noted early on Stephens did not fire her because of her religious practices and in fact the magistrate that replaced her was Jewish.

Edelstein has said based on depositions taken in the case, Stephens “fabricated” the problems after she accused him of discrimination.

“During the four and a half months that plaintiff worked for Stephens, Stephens never mentioned issues with plaintiff to the court administrator or to the presiding judge,” she wrote in one document. “Furthermore staff at the court attested that she had never witnessed plaintiff acting abusively.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz issued a 75-page recommendation more than three years ago, finding the claims against Gmoser and Ferguson should be dismissed and determining a jury should hear discrimination accusations against the judge.

ExploreFormer Butler County magistrate’s lawsuit against county prosecutor ends

She said the close time between the vacation request and the termination was suspect, which means a jury should decide the question. She said Edelstein produced evidence “which would allow a reasonable jury” to find Stephens’ decision “at least in part” was motivated by her request observe Jewish holidays. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett agreed.

Edelstein also claimed Stephens “stigmatized” her with the abrupt firing and made disparaging remarks about her within the legal community, destroying her ability to find another job. On that question, Litkovitz found in favor of Stephens, saying much of Edelstein’s evidence was unsubstantiated hearsay.

The prosecutors were included in the lawsuit because of their alleged actions related to Edelstein’s next job as an assistant Wood County prosecutor. She claimed Ferguson said of her that “she’s horrible” and harmed her reputation, and she claimed Gmoser caused her to lose her Wood County prosecutor position because of his comments. Litkovitz disagreed.

Edelstein said after Gmoser gave his opinion about Edelstein’s work to Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson, a friend of Gmoser’s, Dobson forced her to resign.

Litkovitz found Gmoser did nothing wrong.

“Plaintiff has offered no evidence that the statements were false or morally stigmatizing in any sense,” she wrote.

Part of the reason this case has been so drawn out — there have been 218 documents filed in the district court case — is Edelstein appealed the decision dismissing Gmoser to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2021.

Ordinarily the entire case, including the claims against Stephens, would have to be concluded before Edelstein could appeal. She asked Barrett to close out just the Gmoser part of the case and he agreed, in part because Edelstein explained “that Gmoser is of advanced age (mid-70′s), this matter has been ongoing for over three years, and an appeal could add several additional years to the litigation.”

The 6th Circuit panel that heard the case issued their ruling in August 2022, finding in favor of Gmoser.

Lawsuits like these are not cheap. The county’s insurance deductible with the County Risk Sharing Authority (CORSA) is $100,000 and the county has paid that already in this lawsuit. County Administrator Judi Boyko said she is waiting for CORSA to provide how much money they have paid for legal fees beyond the deductible.

Edelstein has represented herself throughout most of the protracted proceedings but attorney Paul Croushore filed an appearance to represent her on Dec. 5. He filed another motion Jan. 13 asking the judge to release him because “the client does not cooperate with counsel.”

Gmoser told the Journal-News he didn’t want to comment on the fact the case is finally going to a jury, but reiterated what he said when the 6th Circuit found in his favor.

“Since she said that her accelerated appeal was based upon my advanced age. I was delighted that I lived long enough to see the successful result in my favor,” Gmoser sad. “And also to know that at her youthful age she has years to know the fact she filed a bogus complaint against me.”

Neither Gmoser nor Ferguson have been subpoenaed to testify in the trial — at least not yet.

About the Author