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YOUNGSTOWN Judge Milich fails to follow through on cases



Published: Fri, September 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The East Side man didn't report to city probation or pay his fine.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Municipal Judge Robert P. Milich -- who once forgot about Zachary T. Howell's six old cases for 91/2 months -- has done it again.

Howell, 25, of Lincoln Park Drive, was due in municipal court today for arraignment on new charges of carrying a concealed weapon and illegal possession of a weapon because of a prior conviction. At arraignment Thursday, bond was set at $6,000 on charges of driving under suspension, drug abuse, no seat belt and failure to signal a turn.

Although split for arraignment, all the charges resulted from a traffic stop Wednesday night, during which a 45-caliber pistol, suspected marijuana, $1,390, a Rolex watch, diamond earrings, a gold bracelet, gold necklace and gold ring were found in the 2002 Cadillac he was driving.

A check of Howell's records Thursday by The Vindicator revealed that, although he was placed on three years' probation in January by Judge Milich and ordered to pay a $600 fine on old charges from 2000, no one at the court followed through.

Howell didn't pay the fine and didn't report to the probation department, officials said.

Judge admitted fault

In July 2001, The Vindicator reported on Howell's six forgotten cases -- a felon illegally possessing a firearm, drug abuse and two counts each of improper handling a firearm in a motor vehicle and loud music -- filed in May and June 2000. Judge Milich, who began to act on the cases in July 2001 after inquiries from another judge and the clerk's office, admitted the fault was his.

Judge Milich had done nothing with the cases since Oct. 5, 2000. On that day, he held a motion-to-suppress hearing on the loud music charges and took the matter under advisement but never rendered a decision.

The six cases sat untouched.

The felony fireams charge required a preliminary hearing in order to bind it over to a grand jury. Howell didn't appear in July 2000 for the hearing and another one wasn't scheduled, records show.

While the old cases sat in Judge Milich's court, Howell was arrested again June 25, 2001, and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Municipal Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly bound that charge over to a county grand jury, which indicted Howell.

Howell pleaded guilty to the concealed weapons charge Jan. 31 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Judge James C. Evans sentenced him to two years' community control, commonly called probation.

Probation violation hearing

The new charges in municipal court this week triggered a probation violation hearing in Judge Evans' court for later today. The Adult Parole Authority put a hold on Howell at the jail overnight pending the hearing.

While the indictment on the June 25, 2001, concealed weapons charge was pending last summer, Howell's lawyer, Thomas E. Zena, filed a motion asking that Judge Milich continue to hold the six old cases. The judge agreed to do so.

The judge acted on the charges Nov. 30, 2001, when plea agreements were worked out between Zena and Anthony J. Farris, an assistant city prosecutor.

Court records show these disposition of Howell's old cases:

Improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle (May 27, 2000, arrest) -- pleaded no contest. Sentenced Jan. 18 to 180 days in jail with 150 days suspended.

Loud music in a motor vehicle (May 27, 2000, arrest) -- dismissed.

Drug abuse marijuana (May 27, 2000, arrest) -- dismissed.

Improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle (June 18, 2000, arrest) -- dismissed.

Loud music in a motor vehicle, third conviction (June 18, 2000, arrest) -- pleaded no contest. Sentenced Jan. 18 to 60 days in jail, all suspended, three years' probation, forfeiture of the sound equipment and $600 fine. A third conviction carries up to 60 days in jail, a mandatory $600 fine and mandatory forfeiture of the sound equipment.

Illegal possession of weapons (June 18, 2000, arrest) -- bound over to a grand jury. Rejected.

Farris has said that the time issues weakened prosecution of the cases and he salvaged what he could.

Judge's journal

Judge Milich's journal entry of the Jan. 18 sentencing, meanwhile, notes that a show-cause hearing would be set for mid-March to determine if the fine had been paid by then.

There's no record of such a hearing being scheduled or that anyone noticed Howell's failure to pay.

The judge is not available until Monday. His bailiff, George Denney, said Thursday he would check with the judge then to figure out what happened.

Aside from not paying the fine, Howell never reported to the municipal court probation department as required, said Dan Panigall, head of the department. Typically, probationers sign in weekly in person.

Panigall said Howell would be served with a probation violation at today's arraignment in municipal court on the new gun charges. A hearing will then be set in Judge's Milich's court to determine if Howell violated his probation, Panigall said.

Panigall said bailiffs track judges' show-cause hearings and are supposed to let the probation department know who has been placed on probation.

Panigall said he would check to see why his office wasn't aware before Howell's arrest this week that he hadn't been reporting as required since January to the probation department.

meade@vindy.com




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