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PROSECUTORS Buyouts increase the load in office



Published: Sun, September 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The recall priority will be firefighters and police officers, the law director says.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- When it comes to city prosecutors, it's the proverbial robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In late June, two assistant city prosecutors, John A. Regginello and Ben Joltin, took the city's $10,000 buyout. The city extended the offer in an effort to reduce employees prior to layoffs caused by a projected $2.5 million budget deficit.

With Regginello and Joltin gone, that left Anthony J. Farris, chief assistant prosecutor, and Michael J. Krause, assistant prosecutor, to serve in three municipal courts five days a week and two night courts each week.

City Prosecutor Dionne M. Almasy pitched in whenever needed. She or Farris generally determine what charges are filed after reviewing cases.

Regginello typically handled prosecutors' hearings in the afternoon and filled in where needed in the courts. The floater position gave his colleagues time to prepare for upcoming trials and perform a myriad of other duties required to keep the criminal justice system moving for Judges Robert A. Douglas Jr., Elizabeth A. Kobly and Robert P. Milich.

Now, Krause has opted to take the $10,000 buyout and will be gone by Sept. 13.

Filling in

To help fill the ever-widening gap, Law Director John A. McNally IV transferred Dana C. Guarnieri, an assistant law director, to the prosecutor's office a few weeks ago. Guarnieri had handled legal matters for the water department and nuisance abatements and assisted McNally with personnel and labor issues.

These issues were McNally's specialty until April, when he was promoted to law director. His job as assistant law director hasn't been filled.

He's also losing William T. Carnie, an assistant law director, who has decided to accept the Sept. 13 buyout. Carnie's exit leaves the law department with four attorneys (including McNally), down from seven in April.

Those remaining in the law department have taken on additional work and will soon begin rotating with assistant prosecutors in the municipal courts, McNally said. It's a good idea, he said, for all the city attorneys to do both civil and criminal work.

City attorneys are not eligible for overtime, he said.

If the proposed half-percent sales tax passes in November, the mayor's focus will be to recall police officers and firefighters, not city attorneys, McNally said.

Most days now, Almasy leaves her office on the fourth floor in city hall to work in one of the municipal courts.

"There's no opportunity for my other duties," Almasy said.

Multiple responsibilities

Almasy's duties include conferring with detectives who have investigated crimes and want to file charges. She also deals with defense attorneys' discovery requests, hears citizens' complaints, meets with victims of crime, does research for cases on appeal and more.

This past week, a detective who investigated a fatal hit-skip waited to catch Almasy between bench trials to discuss the evidence and file charges.

Almasy finds herself pulled in many directions at once.

Although three down, McNally said he intends to hire only one assistant prosecutor. The full-time job pays $37,000 annually to start and caps at $48,000 after three years.

A candidate for the job was interviewed this past week.

"The plan is to hire an assistant, have three prosecutors in the courts and Dionne in her office," McNally said. The floater position held by Regginello won't be filled, and Guarnieri is likely not going to return to the law department, he said.

Police Chief Robert E. Bush Jr. said the loss of prosecutors and shift of personnel to fill the gaps represents a ripple effect.

"It backs up the system," said Bush, who served as law director until April. "Crimes happen; warrants have to be issued."

Getting things done

Bush said he hasn't received any feedback from his detectives, but is aware that the window of opportunity for them to confer with the city prosecutor is narrow.

"I laid off 11 officers and 10 support personnel, and we've been able to maintain efficiency, but where we had a clerk, now we have a patrol officer," Bush said. "We have the same number of cars on the street but fewer officers, and I had to take people out of specialized units."

So far, McNally's law department has avoided farming out legal work. The exception, he said, is lawsuits covered by insurance, such as auto accidents and civil rights, which, historically, have not been handled in-house.

McNally said he planned to meet with his staff to formulate a "battle plan" for the coming months. The plan will have to be revisited, he said, after the next round of layoffs.

meade@vindy.com




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