The challenger said Judge Lisotto has done a bad job and should be replaced.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A battle is brewing between Mahoning County's top assistant prosecutor and the judge he wants to replace.
Timothy Franken, chief assistant in the criminal division, said he will challenge Judge Robert Lisotto, who is seeking re-election to his seat on the common pleas court bench.
Judge Lisotto's term expires at the end of next year. He is one of three judges on the common pleas bench who are up for re-election next year. The others are R. Scott Krichbaum and Jack Durkin.
Also up for election are Judge Timothy Maloney of probate court, Judge Theresa Dellick of juvenile court, Judge Loren Popio of the Sebring area court, and Judges Cheryl Waite and Joseph Vukovich of the 7th District Court of Appeals.
Why challenge Lisotto? Franken, 53, of Beaver Township, said he chose to go after Judge Lisotto's seat because that's where he sees the strongest need for a change.
"I think he has done a bad job," Franken said. "He's brought disrepute on this county, and I don't think he should be on the bench any more."
Specifically, Franken said Judge Lisotto maintains the slowest docket of all general division judges. He also pointed to problems that arose from disclosure that Judge Lisotto accepted Pittsburgh Steelers football tickets from former attorney Stuart Banks, who had cases pending before him.
"I think that bench needs some integrity and some honesty," said Franken. "I don't take from others."
Judge Lisotto accepted the tickets in 1993, 1994, 1997 and 1998. He paid for them in 1999, after being advised that it was wrong to have accepted them.
The Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel has said there is no proof that Judge Lisotto granted Banks any favors, preferences or other inappropriate actions in exchange for the tickets and has recommended that he be given a public reprimand. Final disposition is pending by the high court.
Judge's response: Judge Lisotto said the disciplinary counsel's investigation found no wrongdoing on his part, which he counts as vindication.
He said two things have caused his case docket to move slowly: a heavy load of civil trials and a poorly prepared prosecutor's office.
Judge Lisotto said he has presided over nine civil trials so far this year, taking about eight to 10 days each. Last year he presided over three major medical malpractice trials.
"Those tie up your docket fairly well," he said.
Blames prosecutor's office: He said it's the prosecutor's office, not the judge, that slows progress when it comes to moving criminal cases.
"The prosecutor's office does a poor job of being prepared for trials," he said. "There have been many, many times that cases have to be continued because that office is just not ready."
Further delays come about because other assistant prosecutors are not allowed to move on plea agreements without first securing approval from Franken as the chief assistant, Judge Lisotto said.
Franken has been an assistant prosecutor since 1997 and said he does not intend to give up that job to run for the bench. Prosecutor Paul Gains declined to comment on Franken's candidacy.
This will be Franken's second run for a judicial position. In 1996, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals. That race was won by Judge Waite.