What was this judge thinking? That’s the question people are asking after Ohio Geauga County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy J. Grendell sentenced two young teens to juvenile hall after they refused to visit their father.
The Hartman family had been in turmoil for a while when they landed in Grendell’s court on May 27. The Domestic Court had already changed the boys’ custody from overnights to therapeutic supervised visits to help them reconnect with their estranged father. Something about that upset Grendell. He changed the court’s order – against the advice of the boys’ guardian ad litem and mental health providers – and switched the agreement back to overnights.
The mother filed an appeal but still took the boys to the sheriff’s department for the custody exchange with their dad. It was very on-brand for the family. The boys were well-behaved. They were honor roll students and members of the chess club. Carson, 15, was on the golf team. Connor, 13, was on the school’s unicycle drill squad. They didn’t have a history of rule-breaking, but neither felt it was the right decision to go with their dad for the weekend.
When they refused, the judge shocked their family and the community by remanding them to the Portage County Detention Center. Just days earlier, Ohio courts began releasing prisoners due to Covid sweeping through the state’s prison system.
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Grendell placed the boys in isolation with full restrictions. This not only kept them away from other people, it meant they couldn’t speak to their parents or one another. It meant two boys with no history of problems faced treatment reserved for the facility’s worst inmates.
According to the GoFundMe established to help with the family’s legal bills, the boys were physically searched every hour and their beds were overturned every hour during the day for inspection. They then had to remake their beds and tidy their cells… All of these constraints and events were vindictively ordered by Judge Timothy Grendell in retaliation for their standing up for themselves and each other.
Law enforcement and county legal personnel complained to the courts, and Grendell was forced to release the teens. Two weeks later, in a move that left experts slack-jawed, his constable filed Unruly Child complaints against the boys.
Ohio legal expert John Lawson said he had never seen a self-initiated filing from a court employee in his 44 years practicing juvenile law, according to News 5 Cleveland’s “Juvenile Injustice” report.
Geauga County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Natalie Harper said the boys’ behavior didn’t meet the requirements needed to file the complaints.
Eventually, they were dropped without prejudice, and Grendell transferred the case back to the Domestic Relations Court. His office released a statement insisting he was working in the children’s best interests. Would their father agree?
It’s no surprise that their time in detention had an impact. Since being released, Carson is withdrawn. He still talks about how worried he was about his younger brother. Connor has trouble sleeping. Their family is struggling to pay their legal bills, and while the courts upheld Grendell’s custody order, there’s no word on whether the boys are seeing their dad.
Some people reading this story will be angry. They’ll feel like they can’t trust the courts to help them one way or the other. If it’s not a bias toward mothers, it’s the risk of a judge’s ego hurting their kids.
Men should be able to receive healthy, balanced support from the courts. That won’t happen unless we vote good judges into place.
If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to search online for your county ballot. It will list any judges that are up for consideration. Check these people out. Many states have databases where you can look up complaints against judges and lawyers. Others have court cases online that you can search by judge or lawyer. See what they’ve been doing in the courtroom.
If those options aren’t available to you, you can search Google, social media or ask your lawyer if he or she has any opinions on who would be best for dads.
And please, if you’re able, consider voting early. Getting it out of the way now will help prevent Election Day hangups. Contact your county auditor to find out how.