Gains’ experience outweighs opponent’s good intentions

Gains’ experience outweighs opponent’s good intentions

We have not always been the most stalwart of supporters of Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, and if he faced a strong challenger, we might be inclined to recommend his replacement. That is not the case in the March 4 primary election.

In this day when the power of incumbency allows many veteran elected officials to count their service in decades rather than years, Gains hasn’t been in office all that long — about 11 years. But even at that, he has been prosecutor almost twice as long as his challenger in the Democratic primary, Heidi Hanni, has been a lawyer.

And while we will readily admit that we’d like to see Gains handle more criminal prosecutions personally — some county prosecutors handle more and we suspect others handle less — at least Gains, 57, has tried felony cases. He’s done so both as a prosecutor and during the 11 years before that when he was in private practice.

During the six years she has been in practice, Hanni, 44, has tried three jury trials in municipal court and one bench trial in common pleas court.

It’s a big job

Gains likes to point out the Mahoning County prosecutor’s office is the largest law firm in the county. And Hanni said that with 38 prosecutors in his office, Gains should be more productive. But looking at Hanni’s experience begs the question: What would qualify her at this stage of her career to take control of the prosecutor’s office?

She says she would expand the office’s victim support program, trim the budget, make personal appearances in schools, attack an epidemic of teen drug use and crack down on Internet stalkers, as well as reduce crime against the elderly and go after deadbeat dads and moms ... it’s frankly all too much.

The one specific criminal case that Hanni said Gains office botched, was not botched at all, according to his explanation. And his explanation was credible.

Gains talked about one specific case that he handled in the last year, and there’s no question that he handled it well. The prosecutor could have brought in outside counsel to fight a legal battle over the county’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place and the moving of Job and Family Services offices from a Cafaro Co. property to Oakhill.

Gains said the case involved 200 exhibits that filled 12 bankers boxes. He took on the company’s lawyers and won.

Gains also says the hiring of additional assistant prosecutors has allowed his office to begin attacking case backlogs. He points out that his office took 40 cases to jury trial in 2007 and has prosecuted five already this year.

That’s an encouraging sign that justice, which too often is delayed, is being pursued in a more timely fashion.

Watching the clock

There have been celebrated cases in which charges were dismissed against criminal defendants because the speedy trial clock ran out. While Gains maintains that it is the court’s responsibility to keep the clock, we would point out that the prosecutor’s office should now have enough attorneys for each to keep scrupulous track of his or her felony cases.

Regardless of who is at fault when the clock runs out, the defendant goes free. That does not serve justice or the public safety, and that should be of obvious concern to the prosecutor’s office.

Gains is unopposed in the November general election. In endorsing his re-election in the March primary, we are doing so with the hope that he will do better on that which he has done well in the past. And much better in those areas in which he has been deficient.

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