Thursday, September 23, 2004

Judge testifies in drug case

Powers explains bail for officer's nephew

By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

LEBANON - An embattled Warren County judge defended his actions Wednesday in a case involving a relative of his alleged mistress.

In his first public comments since sexual harassment allegations sparked investigations and the threat of a lawsuit, County Court Judge Dallas Powers testified in court about his decisions that helped a suspect in a drug case get out of jail.

The suspect, Christopher Young, is the nephew of Libbie Gerondale. Court employees have filed complaints about the relationship between Powers and Gerondale, who is a county court probation officer.

The judge's actions in Young's case are part of an investigation, and representatives from the Ohio Attorney General's Office and its criminal investigative unit listened to Powers' testimony.

Powers' testified on behalf of Young at the hearing, in which Young's lawyer was trying to persuade Common Pleas Judge Neal B. Bronson to suppress evidence that officials confiscated when they broke up an alleged methamphetamine lab at Young's home on July 17.

Young's lawyer contends that his client was arrested improperly, so any evidence against him should be kept out of court.

Just before the hearing, Powers went into Warren County Court, spending a few minutes in his chambers and also asking clerks to find records on Young's case.

Officials have said Powers told them he planned to stay away from the court while investigations proceed. He has not been hearing cases since the first allegation surfaced Aug. 30.

Gerondale spent much of Wednesday afternoon waiting to testify in her nephew's case. She is expected to testify when Young's hearing resumes today.

Gerondale, 34, has declined to talk about her relationship with Powers. Four other female employees have lodged complaints alleging that Gerondale received preferential treatment, that they saw sexual contact between Gerondale and Powers, and that the judge made unwanted sexual advances and comments to at least one employee.

At issue in Young's case is why Powers intervened in a way that allowed Young to get out of jail on $500 bail.

Young was on probation and was charged with two felony drug offenses.

Powers said he took action after Gerondale left him a message about her nephew's arrest. Hours later, the judge testified, he met with Gerondale and another court employee, Dick Kilburn, who was involved in Young's arrest.

Powers said Wednesday he believed Kilburn, who was a probation officer and had recently been promoted to court administrator, acted outside the scope of his job.

Powers testified he decided to create conditions that could help Young get out of jail because he feared Kilburn acted improperly in assisting sheriff's deputies in gaining access to Young's residence. Powers said he feared Kilburn's actions could lead to a lawsuit against the county.

"In order to protect the county, we've got to get him out of jail," Powers testified he thought at the time of his decision.

Kilburn and other witnesses who testified Wednesday said they believed Kilburn retained his rights as a probation officer.


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