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September 27, 2012

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Staff Writer

Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Everett H. Krueger wants the thousands of people who have gotten divorced in his court to feel confident in the justice system.

That’s why his staff is beginning a review of divorce cases on the heels of a May 26 appellate court ruling that overturned a 2005 divorce he presided over.

Three appellate judges said the 2005 divorce was invalid because a subordinate magistrate, rather than Krueger himself, signed and initialed Krueger’s name to the ruling, as was a standard practice in the judge’s office.

The judges overturned the divorce, and ordered Krueger to re-open the case and move toward a resolution.

While Krueger maintains the appellate judges’ ruling solely applies to the 2005 divorce case, he said his office is reviewing other divorce cases for good measure.

Krueger said he did not know how long the review would take, nor did he know how many cases the review might entail. He estimated there have been 700 divorces in his court over the past five years.

“We are reviewing the cases, and if there are issues raised in the cases, we are signing off on those decisions,” Krueger said.

People who want to be divorced will remain divorced, Krueger said. Krueger said he only delegated the task of signing his name in cases where both parties agreed to divorce terms.

“I just want people to know that their divorces are final and their dissolutions are final, and not cause anyone any anxiety over this issue,” said Krueger, who has been a judge in Delaware County for more than 25 years, and a common pleas judge since 1995.

The divorce case affected by the May 26 ruling remains open, although the husband died in January 2011, according to a copy of the man’s obituary filed in the court’s official record shortly after the appellate decision was released.

An attorney representing the ex-wife (who has since remarried) in 2009 requested to undo the financial terms of the 2005 divorce agreement. The wife testified she had been pressured by her ex-husband (who has also since remarried) into agreeing to the terms, court records show.

Since Krueger didn’t personally sign the entry that made the divorce official, the couple was never divorced, and were thus unintentional bigamists, the woman’s attorney argued, according to court records.

The woman’s attorney tried to subpoena Krueger in July 2009 so she could question him over whether or not he signed the 2005 divorce ruling. The judge quashed the subpoena, arguing judicial privilege.

Magistrate David J. Laughlin in January 2010 rejected the woman’s arguments. However, the appellate judges disagreed with the Delaware County court’s ruling.

“A court may not… give authority to a magistrate to sign the judge’s name to a judgment. Therefore, in this case, the Oct. 14, 2005 Judgement Entry Decree of Divorce is not a final, appealable order,” reads the court’s decision, signed by Ohio 5th District Appellate Judges Sheila G. Farmer, Julie A. Edwards and Patricia A. Delaney.

Krueger said he questions the implications of ruling a judge can’t delegate staff members to sign off on court proceedings.

“I can’t comment on the appellate decision because it’s still a pending matter… but I can say that judges are using electronic signatures now. If I can’t designate authority to sign my name, then it raises a spectre in terms of what other forms of signatures aren’t proper,” Krueger said.