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YOUNGSTOWN Conflict issue in bar case mulled



Published: Thu, September 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city had no legal standing to raise the conflict issue, the bar's lawyer said.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The 7th District Court of Appeals will decide whether Judge Robert Lisotto was wrong to toss a lawyer off a case involving a South Side bar earlier this year.

Judge Lisotto, of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, ruled in December 2000 that Atty. Stephen Garea had a conflict of interest and could not represent Joenub Inc., which owns Smokey Joe's Lounge on Market Street.

The conflict issue was raised by city officials, who had padlocked the bar and attempted to have it closed as a public nuisance. They said Garea had once represented a man who worked as a security guard at the bar. That relationship could have given Garea information that he could have used in the nuisance lawsuit, officials said.

The argument: During a hearing Wednesday, Joenub's new lawyer, John B. Juhasz, argued that the city had no legal standing to raise the issue, so its request to have Garea dumped should have been denied. He said Judge Lisotto abused his discretion by finding a conflict.

"There was no reasoning process employed here," Juhasz told the appellate judges. "There's just simply no good reason for the action the judge took."

In order for the city to have legal standing to raise the conflict issue, there would have had to be a prior attorney-client relationship between it and Garea, Juhasz said. Since there was no prior relationship, there was no conflict.

Dana C. Guarnieri, an assistant city law director, was present but judges did not allow her to argue because they said the city had not complied with deadlines for submitting written briefs before the hearing.

The city's steps to close the bar have been put on hold until after the appellate court makes a ruling. The bar remains open in the meantime because a restraining order that temporarily closed it has expired.

bjackson@vindy.com




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