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Youngstown case falls through judicial crack



Published: Sat, September 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last year, in explaining why the case of Zachary T. Howell lay dormant in his court for 91/2 months, Youngstown Municipal Judge Robert P. Milich said it was a "nightmare" dealing with the flood of cases before the court. It now turns out that the nightmare so affected the judge that he seems to have mentally blocked out Howell.

How else to explain -- absent a statement from Milich -- the fact that while Howell was placed on three years' probation in January and ordered to pay a $600 fine on charges going back to 2000, no one in the court monitored the situation?

The upshot of this failure to follow through is that Howell, an individual with a criminal history, did not pay the fine and did not report to the probation department. Instead, he was arraigned Friday on new charges of carrying a concealed weapon and illegal possession of a weapon because of a prior conviction. On Thursday, he was arraigned on charges of driving under suspension, drug abuse, no seat belt and failure to signal a turn.

All the charges stem 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.

Concealed weapon

Remember, Howell had previously faced gun, drug and loud-music charges and had also been arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon and speeding. It has been a long time since he was a first-time offender. Yet, there was no sense of urgency to monitor his behavior.

Indeed, because of Judge Milich's initial mishandling of the case involving the gun, drug and loud-music charges, the prosecution was forced to enter into plea agreements with Howell's lawyer, Thomas Zena.

In other words, when the court had the chance to put him behind bars, a crack appeared in the judicial system, resulting in Howell's file falling through. And so, this plague on society was returned to the streets, his disregard and disdain for the law intact.

As we noted in an editorial last year, statistics developed by the Youngstown Police Department show a disturbingly large number of repeat offenders, criminals who are neither afraid of the police nor intimidated by the municipal judges. These people must be dealt with expeditiously and harshly every time they appear in court.

We also wondered at the time why Howell's case file wasn't red-flagged so that court personnel, including Judge Milich, would know his status at all times.

To say that we are surprised to be writing another editorial about Howell and the judge's failure to follow through would be an understatement. We find it hard to believe that after last year's debacle Milich and his staff didn't implement a monitoring system for criminals of Howell's caliber.

The judge wasn't available for comment this week. He's scheduled to be back in his office on Monday. We eagerly await his explanation.




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