The recently ended strike at The Vindicator put me back in the position of being a reporter, a position I had with the newspaper from 1976 to the end of 1985.
During that nine-year period, I wrote obituaries and also did general assignment reporting. Six of those years, however, found me covering Mahoning County government and common pleas courts, a beat I thoroughly enjoyed.
When the paper's reporters hit the picket lines Nov. 16, 2004, yours truly returned to county government and court reporting a few days later after a 20-year absence.
Instead of editing copy and assigning stories to reporters, I was now the person generating daily copy for others to edit.
Back in the game
When I returned to the courthouse, it took me a little while to get my bearings and return to the routine of ferreting out newsworthy information.
When I left the courthouse and county government beat, a guy named R. Scott Krichbaum was a young criminal defense lawyer. He is now a common pleas judge; in fact, he's the dean of the common pleas bench.
There were only four common pleas judges when I left the courthouse upon my promotion to assistant regional editor; there were five upon my return. All of judges were men; three are now women.
The only prosecuting attorneys I knew when I returned to the courthouse in November were Paul J. Gains and Patrick R. Pochiro. The prosecutor's office used to be on the third floor of the courthouse. It's now on the sixth floor of the county administration building. The sixth floor of that building used to house a part of the county jail back in the "olden days."
There were only two women stenographers when I left in 1985. Now, all the stenographers are women. I certainly am not complaining about that change.
There used to be at least three ways to enter and leave the courthouse. I found myself, however, now able to enter and leave the historic building off the Market Street entrance, and county deputies were there to make sure I wasn't bringing in anything illegal.
Timothy Maloney, a former Youngstown cop, was now the county's probate court judge.
The operations of the domestic relations court were now in two places -- the fourth floor and the basement.
The county commissioners used to have their meetings on the first floor of the administration building. Those meetings now convene in the courthouse basement.
Ed Baron, formerly of WFMJ-Channel 21, was one of the men who had a chance to try me out for a broadcasting job with that station early in my journalism career. Ed is now the court's jury commissioner; he retires at the end of this month.
Of course there were some things that didn't change much. The clerk of courts was still named Vivo, although it was Anthony Jr., and not his dad. A judge on the appellate court was still named Donofrio, but Gene had replaced his father Joseph on the reviewing panel.
Making the adjustment
The hardest adjustment for me, however, was getting back in the grind of reporting and writing. It seemed to me the politicians were speaking faster. Or it could be I'm not taking notes as fast as I once did because I'm 20 years older and out of practice?
Many times I felt like the old baseball player who stood in the batter's box and could no longer catch up with the fast ball. I found myself, especially early on, asking people to repeat things over and over again. For everyone I've interviewed, I thank you for your patience.
My hours were longer, but it's been good to get back "on the beat." My return to reporting makes me appreciate even more the work reporters go through to get the stories you want to read.
I had a few minor run-ins with some folks who respected the pickets and refused to give interviews to me, but for the most part I was able to work with other sources to get the information I needed for the stories I worked on.
After covering Mahoning County government again, I think one major change needs to be made: Somehow the operation of the county jail needs to removed from the general fund. The commissioners will never have enough general fund dollars to adequately meet the rising costs of criminal justice.