NILES At age 66, public defender seeks more peaceful practice
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
NILES -- A longtime attorney from the Ohio Public Defenders Commission wants a less hectic work schedule.
George Kalafut, 66, has left the office after 18 years for private practice.
He worked for the commission's Trumbull County office the last several years in the Niles, Girard and Newton Falls municipal courts and witnessed steady growth in the volume of cases.
"I was doing 150 to 160 cases a month," Kalafut said, adding that he's hoping private practice will be less hectic.
The Youngstown resident saw a lot of the same people coming through the courts, charged with committing the same crime repeatedly.
"I got to know some of their Social Security numbers by heart," Kalafut said with a laugh.
Memorable moments: A few cases still give him a chuckle when he recalls them.
One man was charged with felony theft for taking a winter coat from a store. No one showed up to prosecute the case and the man had already spent five days in jail.
The man pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and the judge sentenced him to time served.
Kalafut then saw that the man planned to walk home and didn't have a coat. Kalafut gave him a ride to his destination, cautioning him against further offenses that would result in substantial jail time.
"He said, 'Oh no, I learned my lesson. That's it,'" he said.
Later that day, Kalafut got a call from police saying they'd arrested the man again for theft.
"It was the same coat from the same store," Kalafut said. "He said, 'I sure did like that coat.'
"There was another man at the jail who was mopping the floor and he said, 'Well, you don't have to worry about a coat now. When you get out, you'll be wearing shorts.'"
Co-worker's comments: "He was great to work with," said Paul Lawrence, Niles clerk of courts who has known Kalafut about eight years.
"He's one of the best attorneys that came into the court. He's a very good defense attorney."
Niles court employees got a cake to mark Kalafut's departure.
"Everybody liked him," Lawrence said.
Another attorney from the public defenders commission will be assigned Kalafut's duties.
Before becoming a member of the bar, Kalafut worked in a variety of fields including car and insurance sales, beverage distribution and drafting. He also served as clerk of courts in Struthers where his brother, Robert, was the municipal court judge.
His brother encouraged him to enroll in law school and Kalafut earned his law degree in 1972 from the University of Akron.
He worked at the public defenders office in Youngstown from 1972 to 1976. The office was a pilot program at the time, funded with federal and county funds.
Kalafut initially worked solo in the office and later hired Attys. Tom Zena and Robert Lisotto, the latter who is now a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge.
From 1976 to 1982, Kalafut worked in private practice. He then headed the Trumbull County public defenders office when it was created in 1983.
He says he'll miss the court personnel he's worked with over the last 18 years.
"They're fun people to work with and they're very competent," Kalafut said.