Prosecutor's office foul-up must not be brushed aside
We understand that Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains is in Florida for bike week at the Daytona International Speedway. Perhaps the time away from the courthouse will allow him to reflect on just how massive a mistake his office made when it missed an important deadline for oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court.
And we hope that Gains comes to the realization that after 10 years as the county's chief lawyer, the taxpayers of Mahoning County have a right to expect competent, dedicated, quality service from his office.
Two years ago, in endorsing Gains for a third four-year term, we made it clear that our support was the result of his challenger not making a persuasive case for replacing him, rather than the incumbent winning us over with his performance.
We have had our misgivings about Gains, and the revelation about the missed deadline shows that it was with good cause.
The prosecutor blames "a procedural defect, all based on a typographical error" for his office's missing the deadline for filing briefs in the case of John Drummond Jr. of Youngstown, who was sentenced to death in February 2004 after being convicted of killing 3-month-old Jiyen C. Dent Jr. Jiyen was sitting in a baby swing in the living room of his family's home on the East Side when shots from an assault rifle were fired into the house.
Drummond was also sentenced to 20 years in prison for the attempted murders and felonious assaults on the baby's parents, eight years in prison for firing a weapon into a house, and three years for using a firearm.
Appeals in capital cases are mandatory.
A year ago, the appellate lawyer in the prosecutor's office, Greta Johnson, left a note that said the deadline for filing briefs with the Supreme Court in the Drummond case was the 21st of the month. The correct date was the 11th. The note, which also had information about the status of other cases, was written as Johnson was leaving to take a job in Summit County.
Gains says that his office relied on the former appellate lawyer's status report on the cases. But, given the fact that the murder of 3-month-old Jiyen triggered intense revulsion in the community and that Drummond's death sentence was met with widespread support, we believe Gains should have been directly involved in the case.
He should have been as familiar with the case file as Johnson, so that when her note containing the wrong date was read by him, it would have set off alarm bells.
The prosecutor has contended in the past that he cannot be expected to know the details of the hundreds of cases handled by his office, and he may be right. But Drummond epitomized the evil that has swept through the city of Youngstown in the form of record-high homicides, and should have been a priority for Gains.
This isn't the first time the prosecutor's office has failed to meet an important deadline and it isn't the first time that Gains has been less than competent as the leader. Indeed, we recently pointed out that he was one of the individuals who failed to let the Mahoning County Bar Association know that Edward F. Sturgeon, a former assistant prosecutor, was the subject of a police report filed by a female client in which she described a sex act in Sturgeon's private law office.
The code of professional conduct requires any lawyer who has reason to believe there has been a violation of the judicial code of professional responsibility by either a lawyer or a judge to inform the appropriate authority.
It wasn't only Gains who knew about the allegations against Sturgeon, but his important position in the county's criminal justice system made him even more responsible for doing what is required.
We hope that the week away from the office will inspire him to honestly appraise his tenure.