MAHONING COUNTY Scandal astounds state bar chief

At a meeting, the bar president compared the county's case-fixing to Watergate.
YOUNGSTOWN -- When Mary Jane Trapp thinks of the corruption and greed that gripped Mahoning County's legal system for so many years, it calls to mind a much larger scandal.
"It's much smaller than Watergate, but that's what it reminds me of," said Trapp, president of the Ohio State Bar Association. She was in Boardman Tuesday to speak during the OSBA District 13 annual meeting.
It's not so much the magnitude or nature of the local case-fixing scandal that draws the Watergate comparison in her mind. It's the aftermath of Watergate, and the way lawyers had to work so hard to restore public faith in the legal profession, said Trapp, of Cleveland.
And although the local corruption problems don't begin to approach the national level of Watergate, she said their scope is unparalleled in the state.
"This is really an aberrant situation," Trapp said. "It was like the constellations all fell at once. I have never seen anything like it."
The misdeeds of the county's rogues' gallery of fallen lawyers and judges besmirches the good name and hard work of the rest of the barristers who try to do things the right way, she said.
Rebuilding confidence: If local lawyers hope to rid themselves of the black eye they've suffered because of their corrupt colleagues, they must work harder than ever to prove their integrity, Trapp said.
"You need to start from square one and begin rebuilding confidence," said Trapp. "And I think, frankly, that's what the bar association here is already doing."
The local bar must also continue to diligently police itself by investigating allegations of wrongdoing and punishing those who have broken the law.
"You have to rid the profession of bad apples," she said.
The ultimate punishment is being disbarred, which lawyers in Ohio refer to as the death penalty, because they can never again be an attorney anywhere in the state, Trapp said.
State system: The disciplinary system has been criticized by some as being too secretive, but Trapp said it's a good system. If complaints are investigated and probable cause is found, the matters become public. If they have no merit, the accused lawyer will not have been held up to public scorn.
"Our profession is rooted in due process," she said. "That is really, really fundamental to what we do."
During the meeting, seven local lawyers were recognized for their years of service to the legal profession. James E. Mitchell of Youngstown was honored for 65 years. Receiving 50-year awards were William L. Bush of Wellsville; Dean F. Ferris and Albert J. Ortenzio, both of Canfield; and Harry Frederick, Myron J. Regenstreich and Bert Rigelhaupt, all of Youngstown.

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