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Lake County Clerk of Court employees push to unionize amid dysfunction they say continues under boss Faith Andrews

90% of the office's 45 employees signed union cards triggering a vote, but Andrews is contesting the effort in a new legal battle.

PAINESVILLE, Ohio — Lake County Clerk of Courts Faith Andrews, who’s been accused of creating dysfunction that threatens the operations of the common pleas court, is challenging efforts by employees to unionize.

David Passalacqua, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 4340, said 90 percent of clerk office's 45 employees signed a petition of intent to unionize, which exceeds the 30 percent threshold needed to seek recognition before the State Employment Relations Board and trigger a formal vote.

Passalacqua said Andrews is contesting the petition in part by arguing some employees do not qualify as public workers in her office. (The CWA already represents seven bargaining units in Lake County.)

“Everyone who works for Lake County is a public employee,” Passalacqua said. “Hopefully. the members or potential members are going to have their opportunity to vote. From what I've heard from people is the clerk has mentioned that we don't have the support. There’s a simple way to prove that. Let them cast their vote.”

Andrews’ office is using the law firm Clemans Nelson & Associations to advise it on the union effort, Passalacqua said. (3News has requested copies of the firm’s invoices.)

Passalacqua said the employees cited Andrews' treatment of staff as the reason they want to be represented by a union.

“It boils down to one thing: bad management,” he said. “Bad management will spur unions very quickly or the request of unions quickly because the employees want to have a voice. They want to have an opportunity to communicate with management about issues that they have there without fear of retaliation."

Andrews did not respond to attempts to reach her Thursday.  

For months, employees and judges said Andrews verbally abused employees, publicly mocked elected officials and failed to learn the job. The allegations are so serious that the court’s judges banned Andrews from coming to the office all but one a day a month.  Andrews responded by filing a complaint against the judges in a case that remains before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The judges recount in lengthy directives to Andrews the employee complaints about her. These include descriptions of public outbursts and disparaging comments about judges and other officials.

In May, a half-dozen current and former employees detailed for 3News some of the complaints contained in the judges’ orders. 3News is not identifying the employees by name at their request to protect them from potential retaliation.

Earlier, Andrews declined to comment to 3News, citing her pending litigation against the judges.

In her complaint against the judges, Andrews states the judges lack jurisdiction “whatsoever to journalize or enforce the false and defamatory improper journal entries.”

Normally, the county prosecutor represents its public officials, but the prosecutor can't represent the clerk in a case involving the judges because it creates a conflict of interest. Andrews also is no fan of Lake County Prosecutor Chuck Coulson, whom she criticized publicly at a Columbus meeting with clerks of court from around Ohio.

In April, the prosecutor's office—citing the conflict of interest—asked the county commissioners to hire the law firm Porter Wright, a firm chosen by Andrews. The firm charged the county $34,000 for its first month of work. The June bill, the most recent available, shows Porter Wright charged the county $20,000 for its work on the case that month.

Andrews asked the court to block the details of the law firm’s invoices, but the court denied the motion.

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