Former Clerk of Courts pleads guilty to auto title mishandling

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

In his 35 years as Lawrence County Clerk of Courts, Dale Burcham enjoyed a reputation for integrity, friendliness and community service.

That reputation took a hit Wednesday when Burcham, 72, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of improperly issuing auto titles, a charge that is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor.

Burcham's attorney, Craig Allen, said the charges against Burcham were "technical violations" that should not be allowed to darken the man's spotless record of public service.

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Burcham was accused of directing employees to issue non-salvage titles for automobiles that should have been given salvage titles.

Under Ohio law, cars that have been "dismantled, destroyed or changed in such manner that the vehicle loses its character as a motor vehicle, or changed in such manner that it is not the motor vehicle described in the certificate of title"…

must be given a "salvage" or "rebuilt salvage" title.

Burcham waived his right for his case to be heard by a grand jury during court proceedings Wednesday and pleaded guilty to all of the charges against him.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Walton sentenced Burcham to one year of community controlled sanctions for each of the 17 counts against him, all to be served concurrently. Burcham must also make restitution to the victims in an amount yet to be determined.

"I take absolutely no pleasure in this case," Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier said. "I have known Mr. Burcham for as long as I've practiced law, over 35 years and I have known him to be a man of character during the time he served people as Clerk of Courts, many years of distinction.

"I do not feel Mr.

Burcham did this for any financial gain, rather, to help people out. But it is nonetheless a crime."

Collier said the investigation of Burcham began "some months ago" when the Ohio State Highway Patrol learned of one instance where a person had been incorrectly given a non-salvage title instead of the salvage title the vehicle was supposed to have been allowed.

According to state law, if a motor vehicle given a salvage title is later restored for use, it must be inspected by the Ohio State Highway Patrol prior to it receiving a new title and being used. Such cars must then be given a title marked "rebuilt salvage."

Allen contended the matter is a paperwork mistake and nothing more.

"Mr. Burcham did favors for people, as all politicians do and later technical violations were found," Allen said. … "As far as I'm concerned, this is no big deal. He made a mistake, I don't know why anyone should think less of him."

Ohio State Highway Patrol Investigator David Allwine, who compiled the evidence against Burcham, was not available for comment.

Burcham retired late last year after more than three decades in office.