MAHONING COUNTY Attorney challenges Lisotto in common pleas court race
The challenger criticized the judge for a lagging docket.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge Robert Lisotto wants another term on the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court bench, but Timothy Franken says it's time for someone else to wear the robe.
Judge Lisotto is one of three common pleas judges whose terms expire at the end of this year. He is the only one being challenged in the primary election.
Bringing video arraignment technology to the courthouse was high on Judge Lisotto's list of accomplishments during his first term. The county bought equipment last year and started using it this year.
Judge Lisotto said he started pushing for video arraignment when he first took office, but the county didn't have money to pay for it.
"I believed in it because I know it works, so I didn't give up," he said.
The system allows inmates to be arraigned via video hookup from a courtroom in the county jail. Judge Lisotto said it saves time and money by not having deputies transport the inmates to the courthouse. It also promotes public safety.
The judge said he wants to continue upgrading the court's technology by having a courtroom set up with equipment to accommodate people with all sorts of physical handicaps. Judges have said such a plan is in the works.
Franken, chief assistant prosecutor, said Judge Lisotto has the slowest docket of the five common pleas judges, and said cases often languish there with no resolution.
He pointed to a felonious assault charge that prosecutors dismissed earlier this month against Calvin Roby because the victim was no longer alive. The two-year-old case had 14 trial dates, all of which were postponed, he said.
Court records show that most of those postponements were because Judge Lisotto was already involved in another trial, usually a civil case. Other postponements were requested by the defense, some by the prosecutor's office, and some were jointly requested by both sides.
Judge Lisotto said he presided over 10 civil trials in his courtroom last year, lasting eight to 10 days each. In 2000, he presided over three major medical malpractice trials, which take even longer.
When those trials are going on, everything else gets put on hold and the docket backs up, he said.
A survey by the common pleas court assignment office showed that Judge Lisotto's docket isn't the slowest among the five judges. Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, whose term also expires at the end of the year, has the best record of case disposition.
"I find myself right in the middle, so I don't have a problem with my docket," Judge Lisotto said.
Franken said Judge Lisotto has done an overall poor job on the bench and has shown no improvement.
"I got into this race because he has just frustrated me over the years I've been in this office," Franken said. He said the judge botched a plea agreement recently by not informing the defendants of the constitutional rights they gave up by pleading instead of going to trial.
Judge Lisotto said it was because the plea form he was given by attorneys in the case didn't contain that information and he didn't realize it was missing. Defense attorneys later apologized for the oversight, but Franken said that's not an excuse.
"After all these years, he ought to know how to do a plea hearing," Franken said.
He said a flap over Judge Lisotto accepting Pittsburgh Steelers football tickets from a lawyer who had cases pending before him was the last straw that pushed him into the race.
"We need a higher standard for public officials," he said.
The Ohio Supreme Court handed the judge a public reprimand but said there was no proof that Judge Lisotto granted the lawyer any favors or special treatment.
Judge Lisotto said the high court found no wrongdoing on his part, which he counts as vindication.