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Judge candidates spar over clerk's appointment



Published: Thu, April 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The judge says a legal opinion from the city law director backs him up.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Atty. Alan J. Matavich says incumbent Judge James R. Lanzo of Struthers Municipal Court is illegally paying a court employee.

Judge Lanzo, however, said Matavich, who is challenging him for the municipal court bench in the May 3 primary, has his facts wrong and is "spouting out ramblings as he runs for political office." Judge Lanzo was first elected to the bench in 1994.

Matavich had a press conference Wednesday in front of the Mahoning County Courthouse to point out that Judge Lanzo is paying Rosemary Hollen $35 an hour to serve as the Struthers court's part-time probation officer.

She also is a special deputy clerk of courts. She makes $21,803 annually and has held both positions since 1994. The judge has set her salary by judgment entry.

Matavich said Hollen's salary should be set by Struthers City Council, not the judge.

He also contends that state law says that for a position of special deputy clerk to be created or appointed, a branch office is needed for the Struthers court.

"Where is the court's branch office?" Matavich said. "There is none. I contend the appointment is illegal, and that he created the position to avoid having council set her salary."

Criticism

Matavich said for a person to run for judge, that person must show good judgment. He said Judge Lanzo's decision involving Hollen shows bad judgment, as does the judge's appointment of former lawyer Stuart Banks to serve as acting judge in the Struthers Court in 1994, 1996 and 1998.

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.

Finally, Matavich said the Struthers court has a magistrate serving who was the subject of a $250,000 malpractice suit, and "to see someone sitting in that [magistrate's] position in the court is wrong."

Judge's response

Judge Lanzo responded to the Hollen matter by pointing out that the city's law director, Carol Clemente Wagner, offered an opinion that the judge could establish the job of special deputy clerk, appoint the special deputy clerk to act as the probation department and set the salary of that position.

The judge said because of the increased population in the areas the court serves, he created a probation branch of the clerk of courts office in 1994 and appointed Hollen, who had served six years as a deputy clerk of courts, as special deputy clerk to handle probation matters as well as clerk's duties.

This allows her to perform both duties at a cost-effective rate, he added.

He said his recollection concerning Banks is that he appointed him to serve while he was away for only one or two weeks during one of the years in the 1990s. He said Banks never did anything unethical or illegal in the court.

He said the malpractice matter involving the magistrate happened in that lawyer's private practice and not while the magistrate was serving the court.

The judge produced a copy of a letter he wrote to the Journal Publishing Co. that explained Hollen's duties, and in which he offered to open his doors to Matavich and the public to review court information and have any questions answered.

He added the municipal court budget from 1999 to 2004 has increased just over $13,000; the court has brought in a total of $3.4 million in fines and costs over that same period.




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