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YOUNGSTOWN Special prosecutor closes case with no charges against Lisotto



Published: Tue, July 2, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The special prosecutor found no evidence of criminal intent.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge Robert Lisotto of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court won't face criminal charges for accepting tickets to professional football games from a lawyer who had cases pending in his court.

That's the decision of a special prosecutor who was appointed to determine whether Judge Lisotto acted illegally in taking the tickets from Atty. Stuart Banks.

"I am closing this case and will not be proceeding any further on this matter," said Atty. Dennis Barr in a letter to Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains.

Barr, an assistant prosecutor from Stark County, was appointed last year at Gains' request. Gains thought it was a conflict of interest to investigate the matter himself because he serves as legal counsel for elected county officials, including judges.

In his three-page letter, Barr said there is no evidence that Judge Lisotto's actions on the bench were swayed by the tickets he accepted from Banks.

Judge Lisotto accepted free tickets to Pittsburgh Steelers home games while he was a county court judge in 1993 and 1994, and while he was a common pleas judge in 1997 and 1998. Ethics rules prohibit judges from accepting gifts from lawyers who have cases pending before him.

Paid for tickets

The judge was unaware at the time that it was wrong for him to accept the tickets, Barr wrote. When he became aware that it was a problem, the judge wrote Banks a check to pay for the tickets and filed new campaign contribution reports on which the tickets were listed.

Those things were done before a complaint against him was filed.

Banks, formerly of Canfield, turned in his law license after pleading guilty in October 1999 to racketeering conspiracy. He admitted bribing former county Prosecutor James A. Philomena, and former local judges Fred Bailey, Martin Emrich and Andrew Polovischak Jr.

Judge Lisotto said he's grateful that the flap is over and he can put it behind him.

Barr's letter does not have a date on it, but Gains said he got it about a week before the May 7 primary election in which Judge Lisotto defeated Assistant Prosecutor Timothy Franken. Gains said it's up to the judge, not him, to make the letter public, which is why he said nothing before now.

Busy with campaign

Judge Lisotto said he was simply consumed with campaigning for re-election and never thought about announcing the decision.

"I looked at it, smiled, pushed it aside and kept going with the campaign," he said. "It just didn't occur to me to say anything about it."

Barr, who was appointed in April 2001, apologized in his letter for taking so long to issue a decision. He said the delay was because he waited to see whether the Ohio Supreme Court would refer the matter for further investigation.

The high court, though, issued a public reprimand against Judge Lisotto in January and took no further action against him.

bjackson@vindy.com




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