By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The lawyer for Community Corrections Association has had enough of delays in the company's slander lawsuit against former Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance.
Atty. Robert M. Gippin of Cleveland sent a letter to visiting Judge Stephen A. Yarbrough, asking him to step aside so another judge can be appointed to finish the case.
"For whatever reasons, we do not believe the case has received the attention it requires, or that it is likely to receive that attention hereafter," Gippin wrote.
Why the delays? In the letter, Gippin cited Judge Yarbrough's "busy docket and lack of legal and administrative assistance" as reasons for the delays. He declined to elaborate when contacted at his office.
Gippin's letter said the case is of "unusual interest to the public" and it must be concluded as soon as possible.
The case was scheduled for trial Sept. 4 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, but Judge Yarbrough postponed that date and it's rescheduled for Feb. 25, 2002, according the court officials.
In his written order, Judge Yarbrough said there are still several motions and issues to be resolved before the case goes to trial.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains filed documents in common pleas court last week countering that Judge Yarbrough need not leave the case because the delays are the fault of CCA, not the judge.
Gains' stance: Gains has said he is required by Ohio law to represent Chance because the incident in question happened while Chance was sheriff, and the prosecutor is legal counsel for all county elected officials.
Bringing in a new judge at this point would only delay the case even further because he or she would have to spend so much time reviewing the voluminous case history and pending motions, Gains said, noting he has nearly five "banker's boxes" filed with filings from the case.
"In short, no one is as familiar with this case as the sitting judge," he said.
Judge Yarbrough declined to comment since the case is still pending before him.
About the lawsuit: At issue is a suit filed against Chance in 1997 by CCA and its chief executive officer Dr. Richard Billak. The suit contends that while Chance was sheriff, he wrongly told county commissioners they should not contract with Billak to provide services to county jail inmates because he was going to be indicted on criminal charges.
No charges were ever filed against Billak, however. Chance has been convicted of racketeering and is in a federal prison.
The case was originally set for trial in April 1999, which was postponed until February 2001. That date was also postponed and the September date was set.
Gippin's letter said February 2002 is too long to leave a case pending and it needs to be resolved soon.
But Gains said CCA asked in March 1999 for permission to file an amended complaint. Permission was granted and the new complaint was filed in July 2000. Based on that time element, it's not unreasonable for the matter to still be pending.