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MAHONING COUNTY Prosecutors report error by judge in plea bargain of drug suspects



Published: Wed, April 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The assistant prosecutor said his run at the judge's seat isn't the reason he filed the motion.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County prosecutors want a plea agreement with an Elm Street couple charged with drug trafficking to be thrown out and done again because of procedural mistakes.

Lester Scott, 42, and Shauna Berry Scott, 39, pleaded no contest last week to multiple counts of cocaine trafficking, drug possession and possession of crack cocaine.

Judge Robert Lisotto found them guilty and ordered that a background check be done on them before they are sentenced. In the meantime, the Scotts are being held in the county jail.

Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Franken filed a motion this week asking that the plea be vacated and another hearing scheduled to do it again.

Error alleged: Franken said Judge Lisotto erred by not advising Lester Scott of the constitutional rights he was giving up by pleading instead of going to trial.

Ohio law requires that judges engage in such a dialogue with criminal defendants to ensure that plea agreements are "knowingly and intelligently" made.

When lawyers realized the omission in court, defense attorney Thomas Zena spoke for the record that Scott is aware of those rights and willingly waived them, but Franken said that's not good enough under the law.

He said Judge Lisotto provided inaccurate sentencing information to Shauna Berry Scott and did not explain the rights she was giving up as a result of her plea.

Appellate review: Franken said if the Scotts appealed the procedure, the matter "would not withstand appellate review" and would be sent back for a new hearing anyway.

Franken did not participate in the plea agreement hearing last week but signed and filed the motion seeking its vacation.

Judge Lisotto is in trial this week and could not be reached.

His term expires at the end of the year, and Franken is challenging him in his bid for re-election.

Franken said that's not the reason he filed the motion, though.

"If there's something that's going to involve a fight with a judge, my name will be on it," Franken said. "I'm the supervisor. That's what I'm here for."

bjackson@vindy.com




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