Why I’m Voting For Steve Abshire For Juvenile Court Judge — Disregarding The Democratic Party Endorsement Of Julie Bruns

Steve Abshear, candidate for Juvenile Court Judge — with his lovely wife, Ashley, and their two children

Yesterday, I received in the mail the flyer sent by the Montgomery County Democratic Party urging Democrats to vote for the candidates the Party endorsed for judge. I am an elected member of the Montgomery County Democratic Party Central Committee but in the contest for Juvenile Court Judge, I am disregarding the Party’s endorsement of Julie Bruns and, instead, I am voting for my friend Steve Abshire .

I’ve known Steve now for ten years and over the years, I’ve been positively impressed by his character and temperament and his compassion for the welfare of youth. The following is from Steve’s website: 

Steve advocated for children as a Montgomery County assistant prosecuting attorney. Steve litigated cases involving abused, neglected and dependent children and worked closely with caseworkers and juvenile court staff to ensure the best resolution for children.

 

Steve also served as the supervising attorney at the CARE House, Montgomery County’s child advocacy center, and helped abused children by coordinating the investigation and treatment of child sexual abuse and providing children and families access to long-term advocacy and healthcare.

 

Steve continues to work with families in juvenile court, focusing his law practice exclusively in family law. Steve also serves families in his role as Guardian Ad Litem by helping families resolve their parenting disputes in a safe and healthy manner for the children.

 

David Bruns and Julie Bruns, with their two daughters between them

The Central Committee of the Montgomery County Democratic Party pretty much rubber stamps whomever County Prosecutor Mat Heck recommends for county judgeships. Julie Bruns is a second cousin of County Prosecutor Mat Heck and has worked for Heck since 1994. In 2005, Julie was appointed as Chief of the Juvenile Division of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office. Julie, by all accounts, is highly regarded and professional. But her relation with Heck must have been strained in 2016 when it was revealed that her husband, David, also employed in the Prosecutor’s Office had, for four years, been stealing money from the Prosecutor’s Office. Julie, herself, was investigated and was absolved of any responsibility for the crime.

In 2016 David Bruns was convicted of stealing $89,976.46 from the Prosecutor’s Office. David was sentenced to 36 months in prison — He served four months. While incarcerated in the Montgomery County jail, a visiting judge gave David the rare privilege of a 24 hour pass out of jail to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. 

The following is excerpted from an article published in the Dayton Daily News on March 24, 2017 — written by Mark Gokavi.

Anatomy of a scam: How a crime-fighting office became a crime victim

It took more than four years before David Bruns was caught stealing from the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s office.

 

For more than four years, David Bruns was regularly stealing from his employer, funneling money into a house-flipping business and spending the rest on guns, hunting gear, a TV set and frequent lunches. He hid it from other employees in the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s office where he worked, and even from his wife Julie, who is an assistant prosecutor in the office.

 

When he was finally caught, Bruns had stolen roughly $90,000.

 

Bruns, 48, is serving a four-month sentence in the Montgomery County Jail for theft in office and tampering with government records, both third-degree felonies. Visiting retired Judge Linton Lewis of Perry County suspended 32 months of a 36-month sentence provided Bruns paid back the money. Bruns took nearly $40,000 out of his Ohio Employee Retirement System account to complete restitution.

 

The records, criminal case files obtained using Ohio open records laws, show Julie Bruns twice transferred large sums of money from the family’s bank account into an account her husband set up for Skyfall Properties LLC, a business he created in April 2015 to flip houses.

 

Julie Bruns, who is a second cousin of Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. and chief of the office’s juvenile division, knew nothing of the thefts, according to the records. When she asked her husband on occasion where he was getting excess money he made up an explanation, including hitting it big gambling, he told investigators.

 

“There were a couple times when Julie would ask, because I’d be like, I’d have some money and then say, ‘Oh, you know. I made some bet on a football game,’ in which I didn’t,” David Bruns told investigators. “That was an excuse I could say to have the money. But I wasn’t like flashing it around or anything.”

 

Bruns’ pay was $27,140 last year, according to Montgomery County payroll data obtained by this newspaper. He was paid $40,034 in 2015, including a $4,090 longevity bonus. He was paid $36,334 in 2014, including a $1,494 bonus.

 

From early 2012 until August 2016, Bruns was able to steal $89,976.46. About 15 times, he skimmed a few hundred dollars off of money people deposited in foreclosure proceedings. About three or four other times, Bruns said, he would set up Skyfall to be reimbursed $2,000 from foreclosure sale overages he wasn’t due. Victims included numerous area residents, businesses and a church-backed community development corporation, the investigation found.

 

Investigator Kerry Smoot interviewed Julie Bruns and concluded she had no knowledge of her husband’s activities, motive or what he was doing with Skyfall. “She explained that David always wanted to flip homes,” Smoot wrote. “She was first initially reluctant but finally approved to do so.”

 

Her husband didn’t gamble often, Julie Bruns told Smoot, but “on occasion he would say he hit it big gambling,” Smoot’s interview notes say.

 

Julie Bruns has worked for Heck — a cousin of her mother — since 1994. She is currently chief of the office’s juvenile division and was paid $101,674 last year, including a $12,900 longevity bonus.

 

On two occasions, Julie Bruns told Smoot she transferred money from the family’s bank into the Skyfall account to help fund the remodeling for the house. Work stopped, she said, when mold was found.

 

In one exchange with a prosecutor’s office investigator, David Bruns was asked where he kept the money.

 

Bruns responded, “In my pocket … no.”

 

The investigator said, “You’ve got big pockets.”

 

Bruns responded: “I have a little safe downstairs.”

 

As for what he spent the money on, Bruns estimated $9,000 on six guns, about $1,000 on hunting gear, $500 to sponsor a team in a golf scramble, $2,000 on a television, and so on.

 

“It’s probably spent,” he said of the rest, adding that he often went out to lunch. He said he also spent $1,600 as a class trip sponsor — not for his children, but for five other kids. “Unfortunately,” Bruns said, his voice cracking. “That’s probably about the only good thing that’s going to come out of this.”

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Rather Than Working For Unity, The Montgomery County Democratic Party Rejects Democratic Primary Voters And Chooses Revenge Against One Of Its Own

Mohamed Al-Hamdani — MCDP Chairperson — allowed a train wreck of revenge at the MCDP meeting last night.

Very disappointing meeting last night of the Montgomery County Democratic Party Executive Meeting. The party leadership extracted revenge on David Esrati, refusing to endorse Esrati as the Democratic Party candidate for the US Congress to represent this district (OH-10) and to defeat the incumbent Republican — Mike Turner.

The focus of the meeting was to act on the recommendations of the Screening Committee concerning endorsements. Last May, Esrati won the Democratic Primary with over 11,000 votes — defeating three other Democratic candidates — but, regardless of the will of Democratic Primary voters, incredibly, the decision of the MCDP Screening Committee was to not endorse Esrati. This decision was discussed at the meeting. The subsequent vote failed to reverse that non-endorsement.

Now, because of this lack of endorsement, Esrati will not be permitted to have access to the ODP data base and his name will be omitted from the 60,000 “slate cards” that the party will mail in October. And, because of this lack of endorsement, Esrati will have more difficulty in raising the funds every campaign needs.  

There were four of us who spoke in favor of endorsement.  I emphasized three points: 1) If the Screening Committee had such strong opposition to Esrati, the time to torpedo Esrati was before the May Primary — not after over 11,000 Democrats had made their choice. 2) The big task now is for the party to become united. I emphasized that everyone knows that without unity, the party has no chance of success. 3) David Esrati, if elected, would be a good and conscientious representative who would advance Democratic ideals.  

I said that yes, David Esrati has been outspoken and combative and severely critical of MCDP leadership and has said harsh words he shouldn’t have said, or said in a less contentious way — but, regardless, it is absurd and it hurts the party to reject the will of the Democratic Primary voters. I said Esrati would be much much better than Republican Turner and that non-endorsement of an elected Democratic Primary candidate would make sense only for a compelling reason — such as the candidate being indicted for a criminal offense, etc. — but in this case, the reasons being given for non-endorsement to me seemed petty and personal. 

Also speaking passionately in favor of endorsement was Amanda Davis, Dalma Grandjean, and Tony Curington.

Speaking against endorsement was Mark Owens — the long-time MCDP Chairperson who stepped down from that position at the June Reorganization Meeting. Mark urged non-endorsement and hammered on examples of statements he claimed that Esrati has made that were so offensive as to disqualify him from endorsement.  After the meeting, I talked with Esrati and he said that he would consider suing Owens for making enflamed and untrue accusations.

David Esrati, Democratic candidate to represent OH-10 — to replace incumbent Mike Turner

The way I saw it, Owens and the MCDP insiders were getting their revenge on Esrati for his unrelenting criticism, over the years, of the practices of the MCDP leadership.

I am disappointed in the MCDP — At this September meeting I was flabbergasted by the absurd and unjustified rejection of the Democratic Primary voters. In our previous meeting, in July, I was dismayed and shocked that at the end of the meeting a fistfight almost broke out after Casey Amadon denounced the actions of MCDP Vice-Chair, Diane Walsh, and MCDP Screening Committee member, Thomas Ritchie. These prominent members of the MCDP also are officers in the AFL-CIO and were instrumental in approving the union’s endorsement of Phil Plummer, the Republican incumbent representing Ohio House District 40. (See Esrati’s post: The Montgomery County Un-Democratic Party/Brawl/Embarrassment.)

A two-thirds vote is required for endorsement and the motion to endorse failed by a lot. I knew the fix was in because of the small size of the group in attendance — many of whom were old-timers, like Owens, who over the years have accumulated a lot of animosity towards Esrati. Only 52 MCDP members participated last night. Missing from the group was Jocelyn Rhynard and many of her supporters, including Amadon. Rhynard sought election as MCDP Chairperson at the June Reorganization and came in second to Mohamed Al-Hamdani.

At the May Democratic Primary, less that one-half of the precincts in the county — 187 out of 381 — had a candidate for election to the MCDP Central Committee (Renamed the Executive Committee at the June Reorganization Meeting.) Of that 187 elected members, only 52 attended the meeting last night. This small attendance, especially remarkable because ZOOM participation was permitted, indicates how weak the organization is. 

When he was elected MCDP Chairperson, I had great hopes that Mohamed Al-Hamdani — a bright and likable man with a great personal history — would have the vision and leadership needed to build an effective 21st century Democratic party county organization.

But, after last night, my conclusion is that Al-Hamdani is off to a bad start. After the meeting last night I told Al-Hamdani that I was very disappointed in his lack of leadership in that meeting. I told him that the party must have unity and one of the big tasks of leadership is to bring members together and in this meeting, he had made no effort. Instead of leadership, he indulged the absurd call for revenge by simply acting as the Master of Ceremonies — allowing a train wreck that an effective leader should have done everything possible to avert. 

See: Angry Words And Accusations At The Elephant In The Room Conclude Local Democratic Party Meeting

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Angry Words And Accusations At The Elephant In The Room Conclude Local Democratic Party Meeting

Phil Plummer — His Endorsement — The Elephant In The Room

At the conclusion of our MCDP meeting last night — after the proposed MCDP Constitution was approved with almost zero change — Casey Whitten-Amadon was given the microphone and after a slow and conciliatory-sounding beginning, launched an angry denunciation of the elephant in the room.

Earlier in evening, before the start of the meeting, I was in conversations with members who expressed shock and dismay that the recently elected vice-chair of the MCDP, Diane Walsh, and MCDP kingpin, Tom Ritchie — both officers in the AFL-CIO — had supported the AFL-CIO endorsement of REPUBLICAN incumbent Phil Plummer for re-election to the Ohio House.

Plummer is the notorious former Montgomery County Sheriff whose incompetence and arrogance has brought over $11 million dollars of law-suits against the county. He voted for the heart-beat bill and is so popular with the Republican radicals in the Ohio House that he has made known that he is seeking to become the next Speaker of the House. In 2018, when he was first elected he was serving as Chairperson of the Montgomery County Republican Party. According to the DDN article at that time, Plummer intended on remaining Chairperson. Interestingly, the MCRP web-site fails to list the MCRP officers, so I couldn’t determine if Plummer is still the MCRP Chair, or not. 

Loranda Jackson is the Democrat challenging incumbent Phil Plummer to represent OHD-40

After Casey’s impassioned denunciation of the actions of Walsh and Ritchie, the meeting ended and as Casey walked towards the exist he was accosted with a lot of F-words and one man declaring to Casey that he wanted to “beat his ass” — lunging at Casey and being held back. I asked one loud woman, a MCDP member, whose name I don’t know, why she was supporting Plummer. She said that in fact she was not supporting Plummer, but she was damn mad that someone would attack Tom Ritchie.

I asked Ritchie as he was walking away why the union had endorsed Plummer and he gave a non-answer that the union made the endorsement because the vote on the AFL-CIO Executive Committee was very lopsided — 32-2 in favor. (I’m not sure I heard those numbers correctly.) I persisted, and he said such an endorsement is not unusual. I persisted, “But why?” And he started walking faster. 

I later talked with another member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and she said that she had attended every AFL-CIO Executive Committee meeting and that there had never been a vote taken. Also, I heard that the usual procedure for rank-and-file input on AFL-CIO endorsements was not followed and that the endorsement seemed underhanded.

Somehow, for reasons that I’ve not discovered, Walsh and Ritchie believe it is in their self-interest or the self-interest of the AFL-CIO to support Plummer. These same leaders last night were in the majority opposing any changes to the proposed MCDP Constitution — their focus on self-interest evidently over-riding any hope of bringing harmony and agreement in the group. It is self-interest, not the interest of the good of the party, that makes leaders like Ritchie want to have the authority in the Constitution for pushing early endorsements and for determining which Democrats should compete in Democratic Party Primaries.

These Plummer supporters wanted the proposed Constitution. It not only empowers the outrageous practice of early endorsements in a Democratic Primary, it copies the corrupt and anti-democratic structure of the Ohio Democratic Party, empowering the influx of as many as 140, or more, new voting members — friends, family, county workers, etc. The approval of these new members will be by guess who? Yes, the majority group in charge last night who brooks no compromise.

Marty Gehres was a leader on the Constitution Committee and presented the Constitution to the group last night. Marty, through his association with the MCDP, has risen to become elected Clerk of Courts. I was amused how he tried to make the case that the new Constitution was, in fact, a compromise on endorsements. He highlighted such provisions as, “The Chairperson, at his or her sole discretion, may endeavor to hold a pre-screening candidates forum and / or furnish a voters’ guide.”  

We should have all burst out laughing. It is nice that the new Constitution empowers the Chairperson to endeavor — endeavor, that is, if he or she chooses to endeavor.

It is silly to put vague promises in a Constitution. According to the actions of last night, all signs point to a future where the MCDP — regardless of the perfidy that was revealed — will continue to do the bidding of Ritchie and Walsh and the old guard they lead.

The self-interest that would motivate Democratic Party leaders to endorse REPUBLICAN Phil Plummer, of all people, was on display last night — the elephant in the room. Casey did the organization a favor by clearly denouncing a Democratic leadership that would have such gall.

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