By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
CANFIELD -- Judge Robert G. Lisotto said his decision to seal and expunge the criminal record of a Canfield city councilman so he could take office was not an easy one.
But because Sam G. Boak has not had another conviction since he was found guilty in 1993 of a felony count of attempting to evade taxes, and because he was elected by city residents, Judge Lisotto decided to honor the councilman's request.
"You have to take these situations on a case-by-case basis," Judge Lisotto of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court said. "You look at what modifies it or changes it. He ran for office and no one ran against him. The public wants him apparently. It's what they want."
Casual acquaintance: Judge Lisotto acknowledges that he includes himself in the public because he is a Canfield resident.
Three common pleas judges recused themselves from hearing Boak's case. But Judge Lisotto, who lives five minutes from Boak's residence, opted to hear it.
The judge insists he only knows Boak on a casual basis even though their daughters play together on the Canfield High School varsity basketball team.
"Probably the only thing I've ever done with him is stand on the basketball court and engaging in some small talk," Judge Lisotto said. "That wouldn't bring anyone close to recusal. I don't socialize with him. I never have. Other than seeing him at games, I don't know him."
Boak ran unopposed for a seat on Canfield City Council and was officially sworn in Wednesday.
Guilty plea: Boak pleaded guilty in 1993 in federal court to attempting to evade taxes.
State law allows felons convicted of their first offense to hold office if their criminal record is sealed and expunged by a judge.
"The people voted for him and that's what they wanted," Judge Lisotto said. "It's crazy to deny his right under these circumstances."
The judge said the Adult Parole Authority conducted a full investigation and "there is no cause for any alarm. There is nothing else there."
Authority issue: Judge Lisotto declined to comment whether he felt it was appropriate for state judges to have the authority to seal federal cases.
"The only thing that could cure that would be the [Ohio] Supreme Court," the judge said. "If you want to say it's a bad message, go to the Supreme Court and ask them to change that."
County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains did not file an objection to Boak's request, saying to do so would be meaningless. Gains filed objections to attempts by two other felons who were elected to office in Mahoning County in recent years, but the Supreme Court said a state judge has the authority to seal federal convictions.
Judge Lisotto "is saying the people have spoken," Gains said. "Do I agree with it personally? No. The state Legislature should amend the statute to say federal convictions cannot be addressed by state judges."