COLUMBIANA COUNTY Officials seek to hire lawyer in records case

LISBON -- Columbiana County officials are seeking court approval to hire an attorney to represent the county prosecutor and coroner in a dispute stemming from an unsolved homicide.
At Prosecutor Robert Herron's request, commissioners agreed Wednesday to seek permission from county common pleas court to hire private counsel for Herron and Coroner Dr. William Graham.
Homicide victim: An attorney is needed to represent Herron and Graham in a lawsuit filed in April by the family of homicide victim Richard Altomare, 59. The Leetonia businessman was slain September 19, 1999.
The lawsuit seeks a court order instructing Herron and Graham to surrender all the records they have on the Altomare homicide that lawfully may be disclosed.
The family is seeking the documents because it's pursuing its own probe into Altomare's death, their attorney Robert Guehl of Salem has said.
Herron said his office is willing to hand over any document that qualifies as a public record. But he argued that he thinks many of the records sought are part of the county's ongoing homicide probe and aren't eligible for disclosure.
To release certain documents would "compromise the investigation" and could "endanger the safety of certain individuals we have interviewed," Herron said.
Lawyer in mind: Herron said that if the court approves hiring an attorney, he wants to retain Atty. Mark Miller of Columbus, the former Franklin County prosecutor.
Miller is well-versed in the law that will pertain to this matter, Herron said. He is uncertain of the hourly rate Miller will charge.
An outside attorney is necessary, Herron said, because representing himself and the coroner would constitute a conflict.
Septic systems: In other matters, commissioners approved a contract between the county health and job and family services departments to oversee septic system repairs for the poor.
The federally funded contract places a $263,000 ceiling on the total cost of the repairs, which are expected to aid nearly 70 families throughout the county.
To qualify, participants must own and live in the home for which the septic repair is needed. There also must be a minor child living in the home.
Its owners also must be qualified as low-income. For a family of five, the maximum monthly income cannot exceed $3,445.
The program is necessary to ensure that people are living in a healthy environment, commissioners said.

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