HARRISBURG – Attorney Michael Kostelaba threw his arms in the air. He waved them about, bounced in his chair and bellowed, “You’re confused, you’re confused,” in a high-pitched voice.
It was Kostelaba’s imitation of how an “agitated” Judge Ann Lokuta would demean and criticize him while he worked as her law clerk earlier this decade.
Kostelaba said he received the “in-your-face” treatment from Lokuta when he’d put his work for her to review in, what Lokuta called, the wrong place.
“She chastised me,” the attorney testified Monday.
But the amount of work being pumped out of Lokuta’s chambers wasn’t always booming, a judge testified.
Luzerne County’s former president judge, Patrick Toole Jr., said Lokuta was a slacker the first year she took the bench in 1992.
“She was not producing the same amount of work as other judges,” Toole, referring to his statistical review of the bench’s work back then, said.
The antics and behavior of Lokuta were relayed Monday by Kostelaba, Toole and another former law clerk, Theodore Krohn, in the first day of Lokuta’s trial on misconduct charges before the Court of Judicial Discipline.
The state’s Judicial Conduct Board, through its deputy chief counsel Francis J. Puskas II, charged Lokuta last year, claiming she violated the state’s Code of Conduct and the constitution in a number of ways, including her rude demeanor and improper handling of cases.
Toole lugged a large briefcase into court with him Monday. It was full of documents related to Lokuta’s acts during his term as president judge from 1992 to 1996.
Toole said he regularly issued policies as president judge. Lokuta, he said, didn’t listen to him.
She wouldn’t give him statistics.
She wouldn’t give him reports on the vacation and sick days.
Sometimes, she wouldn’t even be in the courthouse when she needed to be.
And when she was, there was horror behind her chambers’ door, her former employees said.
Krohn said the memories are still there for him.
The veteran attorney recalled handling an issue that arose in a medical malpractice case several years ago.
Krohn, 75, reviewed a lengthy court file, piled about 2 1/2 feet high in chambers. He had to determine whether Lokuta should remove herself from presiding over the case because of an issue that came up. In the end, he believed Lokuta should recuse herself.
It didn’t sit well with Lokuta. And she gave Krohn some stern direction in how she wanted him to address, in a court order, the attorney involved in the case, Krohn testified.
“I want you to cut him a new (expletive),” Lokuta said, according to Krohn.
“I will never forget those words,” Krohn said.
Lokuta, he claimed, was continually late for court, anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, causing delays in hearings. She would have Krohn tell her packed courtroom she was late because of traffic.
The last straw for Krohn came, he said, when he was discussing an issue with attorney Frank Aritz in a hallway near Lokuta’s chambers.
Lokuta, Krohn said, was late – again – for court. Aritz needed to be at another court case. He was talking to Krohn about getting a new date for his matter before Lokuta.
Lokuta arrived. She blew up, Krohn said.
“The judge came in and began yelling at me, yelling at Frank,” Krohn said. “Frank was literally in tears.”
They weren’t the only people Lokuta spewed her venom at, Krohn said. Others got berated in open court, he said.
Assistant district attorneys.
“Whoever happened to be in the area,” he said.
At times, she was very respectful towards people, and a very “incisive, knowledgeable” judge. Other times, she was loud and abusive.
“I saw two Judge Lokutas,” he testified.
Krohn, Kostelaba and Toole all said Lokuta, in the onset of their individual relationships, was fine before souring over the years.
And the fine points of the relationships were well-detailed by Lokuta’s attorney, Louis Sinatra.
He was relentless in his cross-examination and quizzed Krohn about letters he had written praising Lokuta for her exemplary work in fairly and promptly handling loads of cases.
That’s the same way the majority of Luzerne County’s attorneys felt, Krohn said in the letter, which he claimed was written at the judge’s request.
It wasn’t until Lokuta caught Krohn participating in some chicanery that led to the downfall of their relationship, Sinatra argued.
Krohn said he was looking into a divorce proceeding involving attorney Michael Melnick. He had gotten upset with Melnick in a past proceeding and was looking at the divorce for personal reasons.
But Melnick was also involved with a medical malpractice case being handled by Lokuta, and Krohn’s actions led to Melnick accusing Lokuta of being biased.
Only since then, Sinatra argued, did Krohn ironically have a problem with Lokuta’s past actions.
Kostelaba, too, supported Lokuta in the past.
He acknowledged telling the conduct board Lokuta never engaged in any type of improper behavior or demeanor.
But that changed.
He said he suffered a stroke a couple years ago, making his typing skills worsen a bit. But he was still able to return for Lokuta.
At first, Lokuta was very nice to him. But then she got “excited,” Kostelaba testified.
“She started riding me,” he said. “She was constantly criticizing me.”
Kostelaba conceded the court orders he was drafting were an extremely important duty. Reading orders “riddled” with spelling errors makes that chore difficult, Sinatra argued.
Sinatra went through one of Kostelaba’s writings. There were seven misspellings in the first paragraph. The next paragraph, he said, was even worse.
Toole will finish his testimony this morning.