ONE-ON-ONE | Patrick R. Pochiro Prosecutor discusses work, juvenile crime, cooking

Q. How long have you been an assistant prosecutor?
A. This is the 30th year.
Q. Consecutive years?
A. No, there were some years that I didn't work here, but all together I've worked 30 years. I started under [former prosecutor] Vince Gilmartin in January 1969.
Q. What did you do before you came here?
A. After I got out of law school in 1967, I worked for the Mahoning County Legal Assistance Association, which was the forerunner of the Northeast Ohio Legal Services.
Q. What made you decide to become a prosecutor?
A. The legal assistance program was pretty limited in the kind of work you could do, and frankly it wasn't that interesting. It wasn't what I wanted to be a lawyer for. I wanted to get into the courtroom and get some trial experience.
Mr. Gilmartin was running for office at that time. My father was pretty thick in Democratic politics and suggested that I go see him. I got involved in his campaign, he won, and I got a job.
Q. Did you pick up your dad's passion for politics?
A. In the beginning, yes. I was active in the Democratic Party as a ward captain. A couple other lawyers and I started the South County Democratic Party. I was involved in campaigns and politics.
Q. You don't do much of that anymore?
A. No.
Q. Why not?
A. Well, primarily it was the new chairman who took over. He didn't want to utilize my assets, I guess.
Q. Would that be Don Hanni?
A. That's right.
Q. Did you consider getting back into politics after Hanni got voted out as chairman?
A. No. By then I didn't have time for it.
Q. How have you managed to sustain your political longevity, working for four different prosecutors?
A. Well, Vince was here for 16 years. When he lost the election to Gary Van Brocklin, Van Brocklin fired me. I was in private practice for about two years when Van Brocklin called me and asked me if I wanted to come back, so I did. Then he lost to [James A.] Philomena and I got fired again. I went to the prosecutor's office in Ashtabula County for six months when Philomena called and asked me if I wanted to come back, which I did. Paul [Gains] is the only one who didn't fire me. When he won, he called me and asked if I'd stay on.
Q. What do you like about prosecuting?
A. I think I feel like I help dispense justice, and I don't mean just by convicting people. There's more to it than that. Being fair is what it is. You dispense justice by being fair. When you get older, you realize there's more to the big picture than wins and losses. It's doing the right thing.
Q. How has the job changed over the years?
A. It's not so much the job as the type of people who come through here. I often tell people that in the good old days when I first started out, you didn't have the violence that we have now. As the years have gone on, it seems to me that the money is secondary to inflicting pain or harm on the victim.
I mean, some of these robberies and violent crimes just don't make sense. They have the money or whatever they wanted, so why would they have to do that? I think it's more of a violent nature of the people committing these crimes.
Q. Are you seeing more juvenile offenders?
A. Oh yes. When I first started out, if we got a bind-over of a juvenile, it was an extraordinary thing. But now, because of the nature of these young juveniles committing such violent acts, we're getting more and more bound over to be treated as an adult. I think that's in some way symptomatic of society. It's a sad commentary.
Q. Have you seen Philomena since he was charged with fixing cases?
A. No.
Q. Had you heard rumors about him while you were working for him?
A. Yes, but I've heard rumors for every administration I've worked for. Whether it's some disgruntled lawyers or whatever, there's always someone talking about things like that, whether it's true or not.
Q. What did you think when you found out that the rumors of his corruption were true?
A. I was surprised. And I wondered how I could be that naive, I guess. And I felt used.
Q. Why used?
A. Well, you're working hard to maintain an integrity for not only yourself, but also for the office that you're a part of. This isn't an individual's office; it's the public's office. You don't want the public to not trust you or not be confident that its employees are doing the proper thing. You don't like that type of negativism.
You perform your job, and you try to do the best you can, and you think you're doing a good job, and you're maintaining that integrity, and all of a sudden in one fell swoop what you're doing is undermined by a little under-the-table stuff.
Q. How much longer will you remain a prosecutor?
A. I don't know. It just depends.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to do?
A. Yes, I'd still like to do something in the public sector. I don't know if it's fashionable nowadays or not, but I feel that you do accomplish something when you're contributing to government. If you don't always agree with what's going on around you, then all you can do is try to help it or make it better.
Q. Have you ever thought of getting out of the practice of law?
A. A number of times.
Q. What else would you do?
A. I don't know. Another lawyer and I at one time were looking to buy a restaurant/bar. We both like cooking. In fact, we used to take adult education cooking courses out at the county joint vocational school.
Q. Why didn't you go through with it?
A. I don't know. I wish we did.
Q. Where did you get this love of cooking?
A. When I went out on my own, I was living by myself and started cooking for myself. I'd experiment with different recipes and met up with this other lawyer who I became friends with. I used to go over to his place sometimes in the morning and make spaghetti sauce and have a few drinks while we were making it.
Q. Who taught you to cook?
A. I basically taught myself.
Q. Do you cook at home now?
A. Yeah.
Q. Any specialties?
A. No, not really.
Q. Who was your hero growing up?
A. My father. He instilled in me, I think, what's kept me going in the direction I have been. He told me two things I'll always remember. He said 'Your word is your bond' and 'Make sure that you can always look at yourself in the mirror when you shave.' I interpret these to mean that you should always be proud of yourself and what you do, and don't do anything that would shame yourself or your family. I think that's what has kept me on the straight-and-narrow.
Q. You read a book about New Orleans. What sparked your interest there?
A. My son went to school down there. I went to visit him, and I just got enamored with the city and the music and the food, the whole experience. It's like a whole different world.
THE WRITER/ Bob Jackson, who covers Mahoning County government and courts for The Vindicator, conducted the interview.

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