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YOUNGSTOWN Court: Lawyer may stay on case



Published: Sat, September 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city will resume its efforts to shut down the South Side bar.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The city's attempt to shut down a Market Street bar is back on track, with the bar's original lawyer back on the case.

The 7th District Court of Appeals ruled Friday that there is no conflict of interest for Atty. Stephen Garea to represent Smokey Joe's Lounge, located on the city's South Side.

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.

Judge Robert Lisotto of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court agreed, effectively bouncing Garea off the case. The nuisance proceedings have been on hold since then because Smokey Joe's appealed the ruling.

In her 20-page decision, appellate Judge Cheryl Waite said the city had no legal standing to raise the conflict issue. In order for the city to have such standing, there would have had to be a prior attorney-client relationship between it and Garea.

Since there was no such relationship, there was no conflict and Garea can continue representing Smokey Joe's.

Judges Joseph Vukovich and Mary DeGenaro also signed the ruling.

What judge wrote: "Disqualification of an attorney is a drastic measure which should not be imposed unless it is absolutely necessary," Judge Waite wrote, noting that Judge Lisotto abused his discretion in finding that Garea had a conflict.

"Nothing in the record even remotely suggests that Garea's disqualification was necessary to protect [the city's] interests or to protect the integrity of the proceedings in the case," she said.

Garea declined to comment on the ruling since he's back on the case and it's still pending.

City Law Director Robert Bush had not seen the ruling, so he declined to comment. He said the city will go forward with its original plan to close the bar. Proceedings will resume in Judge Lisotto's court.

The bar remains open in the meantime because a court order that temporarily closed it has expired.

bjackson@vindy.com




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